The United States and Iraq blamed ISIS for the destruction late Wednesday of a historic mosque in Mosul that was the ideological heart of the terror group.
ISIS, through its news agency, said US warplanes were responsible for the loss of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its leaning minaret. US officials told CNN the ISIS claim was “1,000% false.”
Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the ISIS act amounts to “an official announcement of their defeat.” His military commanders said militants blew the mosque up after troops closed in.
It’s difficult to overstate the symbolism of the Old City mosque that has witnessed fierce fighting between ISIS militants and coalition forces determined to liberate what was the country’s second largest city.
For years, the militant group’s black and white flag fluttered from the minaret.
On July 4, 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi led Friday prayers in the mosque. Shrouded in a black turban and robes, the militant cleric declared the founding of a new caliphate and called on fellow Sunnis to carry out a holy war.
It was the first and last time the leader of the terrorist group spoke publicly to his followers.
Control of the complex has been very much on the mind of the Iraqi federal police who have battled with ISIS fighters. The police earlier this year said they looked forward to praying in al-Nuri, but the resistance continues.
US and coalition officials have observed the mosque for several days and have seen fighters and explosives at the site, several US officials have told CNN in recent days.
The Iraqi military said “ISIS terrorist gangs” blew up the mosque as Iraqi forces were approaching.
Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, commander of Iraqi counterterrorism, said: “We are no more going to drive them out of the Old City; we are going to kill all of them in the coming days.”
American military officials deplored the destruction.
“As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” said US Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, said: “I was just in Mosul Wednesday afternoon and close enough to see the mosque and its famous leaning minaret. Little did I know it was for the last time. This is just another example that ISIS is a cruel, heartless and godless ideology that cannot be permitted to exist in this world.”