Iraqi forces were around 50 metres of the mosque, which is situated in the heart of Mosul’s labyrinthine Old City, when IS militants detonated the mosque, according to a senior Iraqi military official.
The mosque’s iconic leaning minaret, al-Hadba, was also destroyed.
“Daesh committed another historical crime by blowing up the Nuri mosque and the Hadba” minaret, Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah, the overall commander of the Mosul offensive, said in a statement, using the Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
ISIS just destroyed the WHOLE MOSUL today.2d image of the Al-Nuri Grand Mosque, completely destroyed. pic.twitter.com/vUKxIt5v7A— Mosul Eye عين الموصل (@MosulEye) June 21, 2017
It was from the Grand al-Nuri mosque that the IS group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the so-called “caliphate” in July 2014. The mosque rapidly came to represent a symbol of the jihadist group’s power across swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
The destruction of the iconic mosque sparked a propaganda war on Wednesday, with the IS group releasing a statement that the mosque was destroyed in a US airstrike.
The destruction of two of Mosul’s best-known landmarks came on the fourth day of an Iraqi offensive backed by the US-led coalition on the Old City, where holdout jihadists are making a bloody last stand.
It adds to a long list of Iraqi heritage sites and monuments the IS group has destroyed in Iraq and Syria since Baghdadi announced his “caliphate” three years ago.
The fight to retake Mosul, once Iraq’s second largest city, was launched more than eight months ago and has displaced more than 850,000 people.