At least 100 killed as Syrian military college hit in drone attack

At least 100 killed and 240 others wounded in drone attack during a graduation ceremony at a military college in Homs.

People stand and walk outside a building after drone attack on Syrian military academy in Homs, Syria
People running after a drone attack on a Syrian military academy in Homs [Reuters]

A drone attack on a military college in Syria’s Homs province during a graduation ceremony has killed at least 100 people and wounded 240 more, a war monitor and the Syrian health minister have said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 100 people were killed and 125 injured. An official in the alliance backing Syria’s government said the toll was about 100.

Health Minister Hassan Al-Ghabash gave a lower figure, telling state television 80 people had been killed, including six children, but that about 240 people had been injured. There were concerns the death toll could rise further as many of the wounded were in serious condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Syria’s military earlier said drones laden with explosives targeted the ceremony on Thursday as it came to an end. In a statement, the military accused fighters “backed by known international forces” for the attack.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “expressed deep concern” at the drone attack in Homs as well as “reports of retaliatory shelling” in northwest Syria, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

Syria’s defence minister attended the graduation ceremony but left minutes before the attack, the Reuters news agency reported, citing a Syrian security source and a source in the regional alliance backing the Damascus government against opposition groups.

“After the ceremony, people went down to the courtyard and the explosives hit. We don’t know where it came from, and corpses littered the ground,” said a Syrian man who had helped set up decorations at the ceremony.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, who has reported extensively on Syria, said that that attack represents “a major security breach, a blow to the Syrian regime”.

“It has been years since the forces of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been targeted in such an operation in the heart of government-controlled territory,” she said.

“It seems that the Syrian regime is blaming the opposition because just moments after this attack, their planes started to target residential areas in the opposition-controlled enclaves in the northwest of the country.”

At least six people were killed, including a woman and child, and 40 others wounded in the attacks on the northwestern province of Idlib, according to a Syrian volunteer emergency rescue group.

The attacks targeted 20 villages and towns across Idlib governorate, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. At least eight children and eight women were among the wounded.

The attacks, launched from government positions south and east of Jabal al-Zawiya, began at 3:30pm local time (12:30 GMT). Locals say the attacks targeted a power station and a popular market.

US claims to have shot down Turkish drone

Meanwhile, in northeast Syria, the United States said it had shot down an armed Turkish drone that was operating near its troops on Thursday, despite denials from a Turkish defence ministry official.

If the drone was Turkish, it would be the first time that Washington has brought down an aircraft belonging to its NATO ally.

The Turkish official, speaking to Reuters, did not specify whose property the drone was.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency carried out strikes in Syria against targets believed to be linked to a bomb attack in Ankara last weekend, a Turkish security source said on Thursday.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said Turkish drones had been seen carrying out airstrikes on Hasakah on Thursday morning about 1km (0.6 miles) away from US troops.

A few hours later, a Turkish drone came within less than half a kilometre (0.3 miles) of US troops and was deemed a threat and shot down by F-16 aircraft.

“We have no indication that Turkey was intentionally targeting US forces,” Ryder told reporters.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart after the incident, a call Ryder said was “fruitful”.

US-allied Kurdish-led Syrian forces said Turkish attacks had killed eight people in an escalation prompted by the bomb attack in Ankara by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

US support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria has long caused tension with Turkey, which views them as a wing of the outlawed PKK, which is considered a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the US and the European Union.

On Wednesday, Turkey said the two attackers had come from Syria. The bombing killed both attackers and wounded two police officers. The SDF denied that the bombers had passed through its territory.

Late on Thursday, the Turkish defence ministry said that it had destroyed 30 targets in northern Syria, including an oil well, a storage facility and shelters, and it “neutralised” a number of fighters.

Additional reporting by Ali Haj Suleiman.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies