BAGHDAD — The Islamic State on Wednesday night destroyed Mosul’s centuries-old Al Nuri Grand Mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret, one of Iraq’s most famous landmarks, according to an Iraqi military statement.
Shortly after the military’s report, the terrorist group used its news agency to claim that the mosque had actually been destroyed by an American airstrike. It was not immediately possible to confirm either account.
The mosque is where the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ascended a pulpit in 2014 and declared a caliphate after his fighters took control of Mosul and swept through other areas of northern Iraq and Syria.
The destruction of the mosque and minaret — which are pictured on Iraq’s 10,000 dinar bank note — is another blow to the city’s rich cultural heritage and its plethora of ancient sites that have been damaged or destroyed during three years of Islamic State rule.
Throughout the territory it controls, ISIS has routinely used mosques for battlefield purposes. Times reporters have visited mosques whose minarets were used as sniper nests, whose prayer halls were turned into bomb-making factories and whose courtyards were used to store the group’s weapons.
The battle for control of Mosul, which has raged for months, was closing in on the part of the Old City where Al Nuri mosque is. Capturing the mosque would have provided an important symbolic moment for the Iraqi security forces, who have taken heavy casualties in day after day of urban street battles and ambushes by the Islamic State.
The mosque was built by Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, a ruler who in the 12th century unified Arab forces against crusaders from Europe.