ISIS has blown up the iconic mosque where it announced its own so called caliphate in 2014, an Iraqi officer has said.
The terror’s group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance on the balcony of the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul that year.
Satellite images circulating on social media purport to show the mosque after is was destroyed.
The terror group is said to have blown it up to cover its escape as Iraqi soldiers advanced on the Grand Mosque in the Old City, ISIS’s last stronghold in Mosul.
‘Our forces were advancing toward their targets deep in the Old City,’ Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah said today.
Satellite images circulating on social media purport to show the destroyed al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq
He added: ‘When they got to within 50m of the al-Nuri mosque, Daesh (ISIS) committed another historical crime by blowing up the Nuri mosque and the Hadba mosque.’
The mosque, whose minaret has leaned like Italy’s Tower of Pisa for more than 840 years, seen as a symbolic prize in the fight for Iraq’s second largest city.
ISIS’s notorious black flag has been flying from one of its minarets since the militants captured Mosul, as well as swathes of Iraq and Syria, in 2014.
The militants sealed off all roads leading to the place of worship last month but today, US-backed Iraqi soldiers moved in on the mosque following an eight-month-long campaign to recapture Mosul, ISIS’s de-facto capital in Iraq.
‘The Daesh (ISIS) terror gangs committed another historical crime by blowing up the al-Nuri mosque and its historical al-Hadba minaret,’ an Iraqi military statement said today.
The blast occurred as Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service units, who have been battling their way through Mosul’s Old City, got to within 50m of the mosque.
The forces had encircled the jihadist group’s final stronghold in the Old City yesterday.
With its windy, narrow roads, the battle for Mosul’s Old City is considered the deadliest in the operation (file photo of an airstrike near the Mosque in Mosul)
Iraqi officials had privately expressed the hope that the mosque could be captured in time for Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan.
With more than 100,000 civilian men, women and children trapped in its fragile houses and windy roads, the battle for Mosul’s Old City is considered the deadliest in the operation.
The militants were moving stealthily in the Old City’s maze of alleyways and narrow streets, through holes dug between houses, fighting back the advancing troops with sniper and mortar fire, booby traps and suicide bombers.
They have also covered many streets with sheets of cloth to obstruct air surveillance, making it difficult for the advancing troops to hit them without a risk to civilians.
‘We are attacking simultaneously from different fronts to break them into smaller groups which are easier to fight,’ said an officer from the Federal Police, another force taking part in the assault on the Old City.
The Iraqi army estimates the number of Islamic State fighters at no more than 300, down from nearly 6,000 in the city when the battle of Mosul started on October 17.
ISIS’s notorious black flag has been flying from the mosque since the militants captured Mosul and seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014
The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the ‘caliphate’ even though Islamic State would continue to control territory west and south of the city, the largest they came to control in both Iraq and Syria.
Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the border area between Iraq and Syria, according to U.S. and Iraqi military sources.
The Iraqi government initially hoped to take Mosul by the end of 2016, but the campaign took longer as militants reinforced positions in civilian areas to fight back.
The fight to retake Mosul was launched more than eight months ago and has forced as many as 850,000 from their homes.