In a hotly contested incident with accounts coming in from all angles, the Iraqi military on Sunday came out and said that a building collapse that killed at least 172 civilians in western Mosul earlier this month was caused by Islamic State booby traps, and not a U.S.-led coalition airstrike as previously reported. The Iraqi military released a statement disputing claims that an airstrike killed the civilians saying that there was no evidence of a hole to indicate such a hit.
The Iraqi military said that they pulled 61 bodies from the building. Military commanders reported that civilians told them that the building in ISIS-controlled Mosul was booby trapped and jihadists had been using the residents as human shields and that there was no hole indicating an airstrike.
“A team of military experts from field commanders checked the building where the media reported that the house was completely destroyed. All walls were booby-trapped and there is no hole that indicates an air strike,” Iraqi military officials said in a statement. “Sixty-one bodies were evacuated.”
That number conflicted with other reports, including one from Reuters, that said a Nineveh province health official stated that at least 160 people had been pulled from the wreckage.
“Six alleyways of the neighborhood were completely destroyed,” said the anonymous official, according to Reuters. “Civil defense has extracted and buried 160 bodies up to this moment.”
Currently, the U.S. Central Command is reviewing approximately 700 hours of video to study every bomb dropped over West Mosul over a 10-day period in order to determine the cause of the building collapse.
“We are looking at getting ground truth, it’s our highest priority,” said Air Force Col. John Thomas, as reported by the Washington Examiner.
The U.S. has acknowledged that there is a chance that a U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit the building and was the cause of the collapse.
Secretary of Defense Mattis said during a meeting at the Pentagon that: “There is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties.”
He added that in fighting ISIS, the United States in “keenly aware” that the enemy they are fighting “hides behind women and children.”
A civilian told Reuters that it was in fact an airstrike.
“We felt the earth shaking as if it was an earthquake. It was an air strike that targeted my street. Dust, shattered glass and powder were the only things my wife, myself and three kids were feeling,” Jadida resident Abu Ayman said, according to Reuters.
“We heard screams and loud crying coming from the house next door. After the bombing stopped, I went out with some neighbors and found that some houses on my street were leveled,” Ayman continued.