Press Releases  ::   Statement on Targeting a Detention Center by the International Coalition

Statement on Targeting a Detention Center by the International Coalition Forces

Al-Bab –Aleppo 28 Dec 2014

Violations Documentations Center in Syria - (VDC)

February 2015

Photo credit: US Embassy in Damascus Page


     On 23 Sep 2014, The United States and the International Coalition began their first airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other organizations in several cities and towns in Syria, especially in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and the north-eastern suburbs of Aleppo, which are all under ISIL control. The Violations Documentations Center in Syria (VDC) had released a statement with respect to these airstrikes, which stressed that the military operations carried out by the International Coalition were subject to the rules of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL), governing armed conflicts, including the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocol I of 1977, which embody rules of customary international law. The statement reiterated that the International Coalition should abide by the legal obligations of the countries it represents, namely to take all necessary measures to spare the civilian population, refrain from indiscriminate attacks and from use of weapons that may cause superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering. It also stressed that the International Coalition should take all precautions and preventive measures to avoid targeting civilians.

Attacking Saraya Building in al-Bab City, Aleppo:

     On 28 Dec 2014, at about 7:42 pm, a warplane of the International Coalition appears to have launched an airstrike on the al-Bab town in Aleppo, which hit the Saraya Building[1] "Hesba Building". ISIL uses that building as a detention center to detain people it suspects of what IS described as “minor infractions” after arresting them. The VDC contacted a number of residents and eyewitnesses from al-Bab. Many asked that their names not be cited for safety reasons. A number of eyewitnesses stated that the attack is likely to have been carried out by an International Coalition warplane, which they could clearly distinguish, from its higher altitude, its sound that was perceptibly different from that of the planes used by the Syrian Air Force.

The testimonies of eyewitnesses suggest that dozens of civilian detainees may have fallen as a result of this attack. According to witnesses contacted by VDC, it is estimated that 90 persons were present in the compound immediately prior to the attack, including10 guards from ISIL, more than 65 civilian detainees and 9 of their family members. According to testimonies, more than 60 of detainees, including an unverified number of children, died immediately following the attack, 20 injured civilian were extracted alive, in addition to seven injured ISIL members on the second day following the attacks, 13 bodies of detainees were found. While other 37 bodies were found on the third day. Ten additional people were still missing at the time of counting.

An eyewitness told the VDC that two missiles targeted the building , the first making a huge hole in the building's rooftop which ISIL had fortified by putting sand bags, while the second fell on the hole, which led to the near full destruction of the building.

ISIL members prevented anyone from taking photos of the place. They surrounded the area and did not allow the families to gain access to the location. Other eyewitnesses stated that they could overhear ISIL members talking on the radio right after the attack, threatening the families if they gave away any information about their martyred loved ones or about the attack.

Another eyewitness told the VDC that 9 victims of the detainees were from Baza'a town in Aleppo suburbs, east of al-Bab city. They had been arrested by ISIL following a fight between two families in the town, few days before the attack.[2]

The VDC reviewed the Facebook page of the US Embassy in Damascus to verify whether the International Coalition Forces had launched any attacks that day, since the page announces airstrikes and relevant information on location and numbers daily. The Facebook page of the US Embassy in Damascus did not provide information on attacks carried out that day. Nevertheless, McclatchyDC, an American press institution interested in reporting on Syrian affairs, posted on its website that it had inquired about the attacks on that day, through repeated emails to the US Central Command. The Central Command finally replied confirming that the Coalition had indeed struck one of ISIL headquarters in al-Bab city on 28 Dec 2014.

The VDC believes that the attacks of the International Coalition on al-Bab city on 28 Dec 2014 did not abide by the requirements of International Humanitarian Law, particularly breaching the principle of proportionality by targeting the aforementioned locations. According to the testimonies, which the VDC was able to collect, the attacks caused 60 civilian casualties among the detainees, who had been arbitrarily arrested by ISIL at various times, and detained in the targeted location. The International Coalition failed to assess the incidental loss to civilian lives. Furthermore the testimonies suggest that the attacks caused dozens of civilian casualties, which was particularly excessive in relation to the little military advantage normally attached to a site known to have been a detention center.

The VDC is of the view that the International Coalition did not take all feasible precautions to minimize the losses among civilians, something that should have been expected, when considering to target detention centers. There is no evidence that the International Coalition exerted any effort to ensure that there were no civilians near the building nor to be certain that the building itself was not a secret detention center for ISIL, as was widely known in town.  The VDC calls for an independent investigation into the attack, to determine which procedures were taken by the International Coalition to verify those targets, especially that it was well-known that ISIL used the targeted location as a detention center and to whether any assessment was consequently made into the incidental losses that were likely to have been caused to the civilian population. The VDC calls upon the parties to the conflict, and in particular the International Coalition, to abide by International Humanitarian Law, especially given that the Syrian government forces and ISIL have indiscriminately targeted the civilian population in that zone  on daily basis.

* Attachments:

A satellite image showing the targeted location in Al-Bab city:

An image showing al-Saraya building in al-Bab city after being targeted, source of image Aleppo, al-Bab Lens page.

A satellite image showing the targeted location in Jarablos city:

An image showing The Cultural Center building in Jarablos city after being targeted, source of image Jarablos, The Event Page.

[1] It was built during the French mandate to Syria. However, it was used by the Syrian government for different purposes, the most recent of which was for saving civil documents. One of the city's residents stated to our center that the Syrian government had taken most of those documents before FSA members (Abu Baker Battalion) took over the building few months after the uprising, when it was turned into a revolutionary police station, or as it was called "the Revolutionary Police". When ISIL took over the city, the building was turned into a prison "Hesba", where the citizens are being held for committing minor infractions such as smoking, fighting, appearing late to the prayers, etc. The building is on the following coordinates:

[2] On the same day of the attack, at about 8:30 pm, other warplanes of the International Coalition launched another attack on Jarablos city, on the Syrian -Turkish borders. The attack targeted the theater in the Cultural Center in the city, which was used by ISIL as military headquarters and as a place to detain those arrested arbitrarily upon suspecting them of committing "minor infractions." Many of the city's residents stated that in addition to the unconfirmed number of detainees who  were killed during this attack, several ISIL leaders, one of whom was French (his  name could not be obtained) were killed as well. Moreover, Abu Omer al-Shami, the prison governor, who is known as Abu Hadid, appeared to have been injured. Eyewitnesses also said that an F16 fighter aircraft of the International Coalition appears to have carried out the attack.


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