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'Declaration of defeat': IS destroys Mosul mosque where Baghdadi became 'caliph'

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Islamic State militants blew up the Grand al-Nuri Mosque of Mosul and its famous leaning al-Hadba minaret on Wednesday, an Iraqi military statement said.

It was from this medieval mosque, built in the 12th century, that the militants' leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself ''caliph'' of a new "Islamic State" spanning parts of Syria and Iraq three years ago.

However, IS swiftly issued a statement via its Amaq propaganda agency blaming a US strike, but the US-led coalition condemned the destruction as a crime against "the people of Mosul and all of Iraq".

Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, called the destruction of the mosque an "official declaration of defeat" by IS.

"The Daesh (Islamic State) terror gangs committed another historic crime by blowing up the al-Nuri mosque and its historic al-Hadba minaret," the Iraqi military statement said.


The explosions happened as Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service units, which have been battling their way through Mosul's Old City, got to within 50m of the mosque, the statement said.

Iraqi forces earlier on Wednesday said they had started a push towards the mosque. A US-led coalition is providing air and ground support to the Mosul offensive which began in October 2016.

On Tuesday, the forces had encircled the militant group's stronghold in the Old City, the last district under their control in Mosul.

Al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself "caliph", or ruler of all Muslims, from the pulpit of the mosque on 4 July, 2014, after the group's fighters overran parts of Iraq and Syria. His black flag had been flying over its leaning minaret since June 2014.


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, the Muslim fasting month. The first day of the Eid falls this year on 25 or 26 June.

The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the "caliphate" which was the largest they had control of in both Iraq and Syria, but IS would continue to control territory west and south of the city.

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 US and Iraqi military sources.
'Psychological reasons'

IS has destroyed several key heritage sites in Mosul, including the main museum and shrines to Jonah and Seth.

"The minaret of Al-Hadba has been here forever, it is part of the history of Mosul, it is the symbol of the city," Ahmed Thilij Hamed, a 49-year-old resident of a neighbourhood near the Old City, told AFP on Monday.

It had become clear to most in Mosul that IS would not give up its last redoubt in the city without destroying landmarks whose capture by the Iraqi forces would have dealt them a massive symbolic blow.

"When the minaret is destroyed, it will be the final blow to Mosul's heritage because all the other landmarks are gone," Hamed said. "I will be very sorry, I cannot imagine such a moment."

Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, one of the top commanders of the Counter Terrorism Service, said he thought the Nuri mosque and nearby "al-Hadba" would almost inevitably be destroyed.

"The mosque has some symbolism for the terrorist gangs, being the mosque where Baghdadi gave his first sermon" as IS leader, he told AFP on Monday from his command post on the edge of Mosul.

"Daesh might blow up these heritage landmarks for psychological reasons," he said.

"Perhaps they won't want to leave this place that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took to the security forces and maybe they'll send a message accusing Iraqi units of of destroying them," he predicted.

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Muslim Global: 'Declaration of defeat': IS destroys Mosul mosque where Baghdadi became 'caliph'
'Declaration of defeat': IS destroys Mosul mosque where Baghdadi became 'caliph'
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