WASHINGTON — The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the U.S. military said.
Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes and other support, are in the final stages of an offensive to clear the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the city after about eight months of intensive combat.
"As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, ISIS destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq's great treasures," Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, commander of the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, said in a statement.
ISIS claimed the mosque was destroyed by a coalition airstrike, but the U.S. military dismissed that prospect, saying it did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.
The mosque, also known as Mosul’s Great Mosque, is where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a speech in July 2014, declaring the establishment of a caliphate across Iraq and Syria. It was the peak of Islamic State's power.
Today the militant group is close to losing its grip on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Islamic State fighters are cornered in a portion of the city’s closely packed neighborhoods on the Mosul’s west side.
The mosque and its leaning minaret have stood for eight centuries.