ISIS Destroys Historic al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul Iraqi, It Was 850 Years Old

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

ISIS Destroys Historic al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraqi Military Says

ISIS militants allegedly blew up the landmark al-Nuri mosque and its famous leaning minaret in Mosul where the terror group’s leader three years ago declared a “caliphate,” Iraq’s military said in a statement.

Reuters first reported the Iraqi military statement, which was then confirmed by NBC News. The statement said that Iraqi military forces, which are battling to retake the city from ISIS, were 80 yards away when the explosion occurred.

But ISIS, through its Amaq news agency, claimed that it was actually an American airstrike that destroyed the mosque.

U.S. military officials also blamed ISIS for the destruction of the mosque. A U.S. official said they did not conduct any planned or deliberate strikes in the area.

“As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, commander of the ground forces component of a coalition working to defeat ISIS in Iraq.

Image: Al-Nuri Mosque
The leaning Al-Hadba minaret, which is part of the al-Nuri mosque, is shown on June 19, 2017 in Iraq. File Mohamed El-Shahed / AFP – Getty Images File

The mosque and its Al Hadba Minaret, built in 1172, had been a symbol of the fight against ISIS in Mosul. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” — in Iraq and Syria — from the site in 2014.

Related: ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi May Have Been Killed, Russia Says

Iraqi forces earlier Wednesday moved through Old Mosul to recapture the mosque, which a senior security official said has a symbolic importance for the terror group. U.S. coalition aircraft have been providing airstrikes as Iraqi forces have fought to retake Mosul from the ISIS group, which seized the city in 2014.

Later Wednesday a security official said Iraqi forces were forced to withdraw from areas close to the mosque after facing heavy resistance from ISIS snipers.

The U.S. military statement did not mention airstrikes.

“The responsibility of this devastation is laid firmly at the doorstep of ISIS, and we continue to support our Iraqi partners as they bring these terrorists to justice,” Martin said in a statement.

The Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul began in October. Iraqi forces entered Mosul for the first time in two years in November, and on Sunday Iraqi forces started storming the Old City, which is believed to be the group’s final stronghold in the city.

Image: Mosul Mosque
This aerial view taken on June 21, 2017 and provided by Iraq’s Joint Operation Command reportedly shows destruction inside Mosul’s Nuri mosque compound. Handout / AFP – Getty Images

The Al Hadba Minaret has been leaning about 253 centimeters (a little more than 8 feet) off its axis for several years and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2012 announced plans to help come up with a plan to stabilize it, the group said.

If ISIS did blow up the historic mosque, it would just be the latest instance of the terror group destroying or damaging historic sites after it took control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The group destroyed antique temples and statues in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, a 2,000-year-old city that is home to a UNESCO world heritage site, after taking control of that city in 2015.

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The Syrian army, aided by Russian forces, drove ISIS out of Palmyra last year and the liberation was celebrated with an orchestra concert there. When Syrian forces took control of the city in March of 2016, Syrian and forces found it rigged to explode, a chief Russian sapper said at the time.

But in December ISIS said it recaptured the city from Syrian forces, The Associated Press reported.

The terror group also laid waste to the archaeological site of Nimrud in northern Iraq and smashed relics in a Mosul museum, officials have said.

The U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS, the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, is providing Iraqi forces with equipment, training, and fire support.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, U.S. and coalition commander in Iraq and Syria, called the destruction of the mosque another reason why the group must be eliminated.

“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,” Townsend said in a statement. “This is just another example that ISIS is a cruel, heartless and god-less ideology that cannot be permitted to exist in this world.”

WHAT IS LEFT OF MOSUL IRAQ FOR CITIZENS TO COME BACK TO, TO TRY TO REBUILD?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

WHAT IS LEFT OF MOSUL IRAQ FOR CITIZENS TO COME BACK TO, TO TRY TO REBUILD?

Sufian stood in the gateway of the bullet-pocked villa, sheltering from the rain. Around him were other men and teenage boys waiting to be cleared by Iraqi intelligence officers who were on the lookout for ISIS sympathizers and suspects.

Sufian was in his late teens, perhaps early twenties. When I shook his hand, it was warm and soft. The skin under his scruffy, juvenile beard had the same pallor of many people fleeing Mosul, who had spent weeks huddled indoors, often in dark basements, as the battle raged outside.
I greeted him in Arabic. He responded in English.
“Hello, how are you?” he said, smiling nervously, eying the intelligence officers nearby.
“You speak English?” I asked.
“I am capable of expressing myself adequately,” he said.
Attack helicopters clattered overhead, occasionally firing missiles and heavy machine guns into the old city. Gunfire, mortar and artillery fire boomed a few blocks away.
We were trying to convince the Iraqi soldiers to let us go forward, so I left Sufian and went back to the group of intelligence officers nearby.
Our producer, Kareem Khadder, was trying to charm them. They were a tough crowd, suspicious by profession. Kareem handed out another round of cigarettes, making jokes in the hopes they would warm to us.
I knew this would take a while, so I walked down the muddy road with camerawoman Mary Rogers to have a look around Tayaran, the battered neighborhood just north of Mosul’s equally battered airport.

Smoke rises over west Mosul's old city. Iraqi forces are fighting street-by-street, house-by-house. The Iraqi government doesn't publish casualty figures but the CNN crew saw many ambulances rushing toward the battle zone.

I turned around and saw Sufian again, struggling to push his mother in a wheelchair through the muck.
“A real disaster,” Sufian told me, breathless. “We lost everything: our hearts, our beliefs, our belongings. We don’t belong here any more. We want peace.”
“Will you come back?” I asked.
“No, I can’t,” he said. “No more. I can’t. I’m so scared. They will kill us.”
I stopped to let them go, saying in Arabic “khair, in sha Allah,” which roughly translates as “God willing, all will be well.”
“We have Jesus,” responded Sufian. “We are going to Jesus.”
“What did Sufian say?” interjected his grandfather in Arabic, hobbling on a cane over to me.
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t fathom why someone with the very Sunni Muslim name of Sufian would say that.
Is this what he meant when he had said we lost our beliefs?

People fleeing west Mosul.

In the meantime, Kareem’s charm bore fruit. The intelligence officers were laughing, asking us to pose for group pictures. They were ready to take us deeper into the city. This would be our second try that day.
Earlier, we had driven with members of the Rapid Response Unit of the Iraqi Federal Police to a park next to the Mosul museum. But as we were driving up, our car shook with a massive blast. The shock wave rattled the shutters on the shops lining the road.
When we exited our car, we saw a cloud of black smoke rising about 150 meters (492 feet) away.
One by one, ambulances were going forward. The soldiers were on edge. A pickup truck rushed by in the opposite direction, several wounded soldiers in the back.
We later learned an armored ISIS suicide earthmover had exploded, killing and wounding many of the soldiers.

With the little they could carry west Mosul residents are streaming out of the city. "It's a catastrophe," one young man told the CNN crew.

Our escort, a man named Captain Firas, decided we had seen enough. He barked for us and the other journalists to get back in our cars. Protests fell on deaf ears.
We drove back to the ruins of Mosul airport, losing Captain Firas along the way.
There we saw hundreds of Mosul residents walking out of the city. Leading the group was Saleh Jassim, a man in his early thirties, a white calf draped over his shoulders, other cows following him.

Saleh Jassim, seen above, braved ISIS snipers and mortar fire to get his family and his herd, his only livelihood, out of harms way in western Mosul.

While others appeared exhausted and disoriented, Saleh was smiling broadly, waving, giving a V-for-victory sign with his fingers.
“Thank God for your safety,” I told him in Arabic. In response, he kissed my cheeks.
Saleh and his family had walked for two hours from their home in the Bab Al-Baidh district of Mosul’s old city.
“The shelling was violent,” he told me. “I haven’t slept in two days.”
The cows, he added, belonged to a neighbor.

Families fleeing the fighting in western mosul carrying the few belongings and their herds as it is their only livelihood. Many residents of Mosul flee the violence under mortar and sniper fire.

While Mary and I were talking to Saleh, Kareem had stopped a Federal Police pick up truck and convinced the men inside to take us back into the city. That’s where we met Sufian.
If this story is starting to sound disjointed, that’s how our days in Mosul usually are. Plan A quickly becomes Plan B, then Plan C, until we get half-way through the alphabet.
After speaking with Sufian and his family, we followed our new-found friends, the intelligence officers, deeper into the city by car where they promised to take us to their commander. He wasn’t there. As we waited, seven soldiers came down the street. There were pulling two men with their shirts pulled over their faces.
“They’re da’eshis,” a soldier next to us said. ISIS.
“How do you know they’re ISIS suspects?” I asked one of the intelligence officers.
“They’re not suspects. They are ISIS,” he shot back.
“How do you know?”
“We have informers,” he said.
“I hope you let them have it,” shouted a soldier by the side of the road.
As the group ran past, I saw red marks, and two black boot marks on one of the captive’s exposed back. They had already “let them have it.” Or to be more precise, had started to let them have it.

Rasoul, a year and a month old, hid out with his family and other relatives -- 23 people in all -- for 12 days in their basement, while the battle raged around them in the Jawsaq neighborhood of west Mosul. As they were in the basement, the house caught on fire after being hit by mortar rounds, says his grandmother, Khadija.

The commander we had come to meet never showed up. Instead, we followed another group of federal policemen into a half-finished building where they said we could see Al-Hadba, the leaning minaret of Mosul next to the Great Mosque of al-Nuri.
It was there that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi made his first and only confirmed public appearance on July 4, 2014, days after the announcement of the establishment of his so-called caliphate.
From the third floor of the building, we had a panoramic view of the old city.
“Be careful,” a policeman warned us. “There are snipers.”
Al-Hadba was just about two kilometers, just over a mile away. To its left, a large column of black smoke rose to the heavens. More gunfire, more blasts.
On the broad boulevard below, a family of eight — two boys, four men and two women — scurried by. One of the women, in a green headscarf, clutched a stick with a piece of white cloth to signal they were not combatants.
“Come,” offered one of the soldiers, “I’ll show you a dead da’eshi.”
We followed him down the stairs, though a courtyard, over an earth rampart to the side of a street.
“We have to run across this street, one by one,” he said. “There’s a sniper.”
Once we gathered on the other side of the street, we heard the whoosh of an incoming mortar round.
Everyone hit the dirt.
It landed with a crash somewhere nearby.
“Quickly, we need to go,” said the soldier. “There might be another mortar.”
Before us was a charred, mangled Federal Police Humvee. Next to it, the burned, twisted wreckage of a car. Probably a car bomb. To its right lay a corpse in combat fatigues and boots, leg splayed. By the stench, it had been there for days.
A black rooster strutted by the body, crowing triumphantly.
All around, there is destruction.
Masonry, glass shards, twisted metal, scraps of clothing, and bullet casings litter the ground.
Machine gun fire rattles down the street.
Another boom.
This is what is left of the great city of Mosul.
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