Missile Strike Victim Pentagon Claimed Was Al-Qaida Leader May Have Actually Been Civilian Bricklayer

(Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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The Pentagon is walking back its claim that a U.S. missile strike earlier in May killed an al-Qaida leader.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) previously said a man killed by a hellfire missile strike May 3 in Qorqanya, Idlib province, Syria, was a senior al-Qaida leader. Now, after his family claimed he was simply a civilian bricklayer improperly targeted by the U.S., the Pentagon is investigating whether it struck the right target.

CENTCOM’s initial statement said it had “conducted a unilateral strike … targeting a senior Al Qaeda leader,” but one official told The Washington Post in mid-May they are “no longer confident” the person killed was, in fact, an al-Qaida leader. A separate official said they weren’t confident the target was the senior al-Qaida leader they wanted to hit but that they still believe it may have been an al-Qaida member.

The family of Lotfi Hassan Misto, the 56-year-old man killed in the strike, told the Associated Press (AP) in the days immediately following his death that he was just a farmer who raised chickens and cattle and had no connection to militant groups. His brother, Mohamed Masto, said allegations that his brother was in the terrorist organization were “absolute lies” and described his killing as an “injustice and an aggression.” Others described him as a former bricklayer and father of 10 children.

The White Helmets, a civil defense group in northern Syria, said they found Misto dead along with three of his animals, AP reported. (RELATED: US Says It Killed Islamic State Leader Responsible For Planning Attacks Across Europe)

The Pentagon has not yet concluded its investigation into the incident. A CENTCOM spokesman said earlier in May that U.S. forces are still in the process of identifying who was killed in the strike. The Pentagon also has not stated who the original target of the strike was.