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BAGHDAD — Residents of Mosul have watched helplessly as extremists ruling the northern Iraqi city blew up some of their most beloved landmarks and shrines to impose a stark vision of Islam.

Next up for destruction, they feared: the Crooked Minaret, a more than 840-year-old tower that leans like Italy’s Tower of Pisa.

But over the weekend, residents pushed back. When fighters from the Islamic State group loaded with heavy explosives converged on the site, residents living nearby rushed to the courtyard below the minaret, sat on the ground, and linked arms to form a human chain to protect it, two residents who witnessed the event said Monday.

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They told the fighters, “If you blow up the minaret, you’ll have to kill us, too,” the witnesses said.

The militants backed down and left, said the witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the militants.

But residents are certain the militants will try again. Over the past two weeks, the extremists ruling Iraq’s second-largest city have shrugged off previous restraint and embarked on a brutal campaign to purge Mosul of anything that challenges their radical interpretation of Islam.

The militants, though Sunnis, target shrines revered by other Sunni Muslims because the sites are dedicated to popular religious figures. In the radicals’ eyes, that commits one of the worst violations of Islam: encouraging worship of others besides God.

The scene in Mosul on Saturday was a startling show of bravery against the Islamic State, a group that has shown little compunction against killing anyone who resists it. The protest reflects the horror among some residents over what has become of their beloved city.

The Crooked Minaret — al-Manara al-Hadba in Arabic — was built in 1172 as part of the Great al-Nour Mosque; it leans about 8 feet off perpendicular. It is pictured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar note.

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Local lore, for example, has it that the minaret tilts because it bowed in reverence to the prophet Mohammed as he made an ascent to heaven.