ISIS Is Said to Destroy Historic al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul
BAGHDAD — The Islamic State on Wednesday night destroyed Mosul’s centuries-old al-Nuri Grand Mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret, one of Iraq’s most famous landmarks, according to the Iraqi and US militaries.
Shortly after the military’s report, the terrorist group used its news agency to claim that the mosque had actually been destroyed by an American airstrike.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a US military spokesman in Baghdad, said that the coalition had confirmed, through drone surveillance footage, that the mosque had been destroyed. “We don’t know how,” said Dillon, who added that the coalition was investigating.
‘‘We did not conduct strikes in that area at that time,’’ Dillon told the Associated Press.
Shortly afterward, the US Central Command issued a statement bluntly accusing the Islamic State of destroying the mosque.
“As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” Major General Joseph Martin, the US commander for the operation, said in the statement. “This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated.”
The mosque is where the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ascended a pulpit in 2014 and announced declared a caliphate after his fighters took control of Mosul and swept through other areas of northern Iraq and Syria.
The destruction of the mosque and minaret — which are pictured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bank note — is another blow to the city’s rich cultural heritage and its plethora of ancient sites that have been damaged or destroyed during three years of Islamic State rule.
Throughout the territory it controls, the Islamic State has routinely used mosques for battlefield purposes. Mosque minarets have been used as sniper nests, with prayer halls turned into bomb-making factories and courtyards used to store the group’s weapons.
The battle for control of Mosul, which has raged for months, was closing in on the part of the Old City where al-Nuri mosque is. Capturing the mosque would have provided an important symbolic moment for the Iraqi security forces, who have taken heavy casualties in day after day of urban street battles and ambushes by the Islamic State.
The mosque was built by Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, a ruler who in the 12th century unified Arab forces against crusaders from Europe.
Islamic State fighters initially attempted to destroy the minaret in July 2014. The militants said the structure contradicted their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but Mosul residents converged on the area and formed a human chain to protect it. Militants demolished dozens of historic and archeological sites in and around Mosul, saying they promoted idolatry.
Progress to take over the Old City has been slow as the last Islamic State militants are holed up with an estimated 100,000 civilians according to the United Nations.
Earlier this month Mosul residents reported fighters began sealing off the area around the mosque. Residents said Islamic State fighters ordered families living in the area to evacuate in preparation for a final stand.
The fight to retake Mosul was launched more than eight months ago and has displaced more than 850,000 people. While Iraqi forces have experienced periods of swift gains, combat inside the city has been grueling and deadly for both Iraqi forces and civilians.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.