The terrorist Islamic State group Daesh is believed to have destroyed Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque and its iconic leaning minaret known as al-Hadba late Wednesday night when fighters detonated explosives inside the structures, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense.
The iconic leaning minaret of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri has stood over Mosul for 800 years. But on Wednesday, one of the most iconic religious sites in the country came crashing down as the Iraqi army fought to take the city back from Islamic State militants.
What happened to al-Nuri mosque? The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency quickly argued that the mosque was destroyed in a U.S. airstrike. But the U.S.-led coalition denied that, suggesting instead that the Islamic State had blown up the mosque as they retreated.
Grainy video footage released by Iraq’s joint operations command to reporters appears to offer the best chance to assess these competing claims. The footage appears to have come from cameras the Iraqi army set up along the Mosul front line to watch the Islamic State's positions.
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 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 Wednesday night after the Ministry of Defense statement, IS claimed an airstrike 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 grueling and deadly for both Iraqi forces and civilians.