Isil destroys 840-year-old mosque where they declared caliphate
Isil destroyed Mosul's al-Nuri mosque and its iconic leaning minaret known as al-Hadba when fighters detonated explosives inside the structures yesterday night, Iraq's Ministry of Defence said.
The mosque - also known as Mosul's Great Mosque - is where Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a so-called Islamic caliphate in 2014 shortly after the city was overrun by the militants and 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 more than 840 years.
In a statement posted online after the Ministry of Defence statement, Isil claimed an airstrike carried out by the United States destroyed the mosque and minaret. The US-led coalition rejected the Isil claim.
A coalition spokesman, US army Colonel Ryan Dillon, told The Associated Press that coalition aerial surveillance confirmed the mosque was destroyed, but he said a US strike was not the cause. "We did not conduct strikes in that area at that time," Col Dillon said.
Isil 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.
"This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organisation must be annihilated," US Major General Joseph Martin, the commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, said in a written statement.
"The responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of Isil," he added.
The mosque sat on the southern edge of the Old City, the last Isil stronghold inside Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a push into the Old City earlier this week, but have made slow progress as the last Isil fighters there are holed up with an estimated 100,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, Mosul residents reported Isil fighters began sealing off the area around the mosque. Residents said Isil 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.