Caliphate declared in historic structure
The Islamic State group has destroyed Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque and its famous leaning minaret known as al-Hadba when fighters detonated explosives inside the structures, Iraq’s Ministry of Defence says.
The mosque also known as Mosul’s Great Mosque is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a so-called Islamic caliphate in 2014 shortly after the city was overrun by the militants.
The mosque was seen as a key symbolic prize in the fight for Iraq’s second largest city. The minaret that leaned like Italy’s Tower of Pisa stood for over 840 years.
In a statement posted on-line last night after the Ministry of Defence statement, IS claimed an air strike carried out by the United States destroyed the mosque and minaret.
IS 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.
IS demolished dozens of historic and archaeological sites in and around Mosul, saying they promoted idolatry.
The mosque sat on the southern edge of the Old City, the last IS stronghold inside Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a push into the Old City earlier this week, but have made slow progress as the last IS fighters there are holed up with an estimated 100,000 civilians according to the United Nations.
Earlier this month Mosul residents reported IS fighters began sealing off the area around the mosque. Residents said IS 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 gruelling and deadly for both Iraqi forces and civilians.
The Iraqi military’s media office distributed a picture taken from the air that appeared to show the mosque and minaret flattened in the middle of the small houses of the Old City, the historic district where the militants are besieged.
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 mosque is named after Nuruddin al-Zanki, a noble who fought the early crusaders from a fiefdom that covered territory in modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The mosque was built in 1172-73, shortly before his death, and housed an Islamic school.
By the time renowned medieval traveller Ibn Battuta visited two centuries later, the minaret was already leaning. Its tilt gave the landmark its popular name: the hunchback.
It was built with seven bands of decorative brickwork in complex geometric patterns ascending in levels towards the top in designs also found in Persia and Central Asia.
Nabeel Nouriddin, a historian and archaeologist specialising in Mosul and its Nineveh region, said the minaret has not been renovated since 1970, making it particularly vulnerable to blasts even if it was not directly hit. AP-Reuters