Helicopters roared suddenly early Thursday over Atmeh, near the Turkish border in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib Province, according to one resident who described an hourslong overnight standoff at a residential building that was subsequently reduced to rubble.
Atmeh, once a small and sleepy village known for its olive trees, has become home to a number of camps for those displaced by the country’s long-running civil war, and residents described a “terrifying” overnight incident on Thursday.
Mohamed al-Omar, 65, told NBC News that the building that was targeted belongs to his son, who has been living in Germany since 2016.
He said he had been renting the building out since his son’s departure.
A widow and her son had been living on the third floor, while her brother, his wife and their children had been living on the second, he said. Al-Omar said he believed they had all been killed overnight. He said he didn’t know if anyone living there had been involved in jihadist activity.
The third floor of the residential building had been completely destroyed in the raid, he said, while the second and first floors had been significantly damaged.
One neighbor said that he had been sleeping in his bedroom when he heard the sound of helicopters starting to get “stronger” and “louder” as they neared, describing it as “terrifying.”
“I looked out the window and saw the airdrop to my neighbor’s house,” said Abu Omar, 39, via WhatsApp message.
After that, he said he heard a voice booming through loudspeakers, warning those in the residence to “leave the house immediately” or be targeted.
The calls continued for about half an hour, he said, before gunshots could be heard followed by a final warning. Omar said a woman appeared to be speaking with those issuing the warning before the house “was bombed.”
Thursday’s operation came as ISIS has been trying for a resurgence, with a series of attacks in the region, including a 10-day assault late last month to seize a prison.
Idlib is broadly controlled by Turkey-backed fighters, but is also an al-Qaida stronghold and home to several of its top operatives. Other militants, including rival ISIS extremists, have also found refuge in the area.