Iraqi troops on Thursday captured the ruined mosque at the heart of Islamic State’s de facto capital Mosul, prompting authorities to declare an end of the jihadist group’s self-styled caliphate.
The seizure of the nearly 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque — from where IS proclaimed the caliphate nearly three years ago to the day — prompted Iraq to announce a conclusive victory, Reuters reports.
“The return of al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba minaret to the fold of the nation marks the end of the Daesh state of falsehood,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was quoted as saying in a statement, referring to the hardline Sunni Muslim group by an Arabic acronym.
IS fighters blew up the medieval mosque and its famed leaning minaret a week ago as US-backed Iraqi forces started a push in its direction.
Their black flag had been flying from al-Hadba (The Hunchback) minaret since June 2014.
Iraqi authorities expect the long battle for Mosul to end in coming days as remaining IS fighters are bottled up in just a handful of neighborhoods of the Old City.
The militant group’s stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, is also close to falling.
A US-backed Kurdish-led coalition besieging Raqqa on Thursday fully encircled it after closing the militants’ last way out from the south.
These setbacks have reduced Islamic State’s territory by 60 percent from its peak two years ago.
“Their fictitious state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV.
Counter Terrorism Service troops captured the al-Nuri Mosque’s ground in a “lightning operation” on Thursday, a commander of the US-trained elite units told state TV.
A US-led international coalition is providing air and ground support to the Iraqi forces fighting through the Old City’s maze of narrow alleyways.
IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself ruler of all Muslims from the Grand al-Nuri Mosque’s pulpit on July 4, 2014, after the insurgents overran swathes of Iraq and Syria.
His speech from the mosque was the first time he revealed himself to the world and the footage broadcast then is to this day the only video recording of him as “caliph”.
He has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the border area between Iraq and Syria, according to US and Iraqi military sources.
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