Islamists on Wednesday blew up Mosul’s iconic leaning minaret and the adjacent mosque where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 declared himself “caliph” in his only public appearance, Iraqi officials said.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group swiftly issued a statement via its Amaq propaganda agency blaming a US strike, but the US-led coalition condemned the destruction as a crime against “the people of Mosul and all of Iraq”.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the destruction of the sites was “an official declaration of defeat” from the jihadists in the eight-month-old battle for Mosul.

“Our forces were advancing toward their targets deep in the Old City and when they got to within 50 metres (yards) of the Nuri mosque, Daesh (ISIS) committed another historical crime by blowing up the Nuri mosque and the Hadba” mosque, Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah, the overall commander of the Mosul offensive, said in a statement.

The destruction of two of Mosul’s best-known landmarks comes on the fourth day of an Iraqi offensive backed by the US-led coalition to take 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 jihadist organization has destroyed in Iraq and Syria since Baghdadi created his “caliphate” straddling both countries, almost exactly three years ago.

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ISIS proclaimed its self-styled “caliphate” in June 2014, after sweeping across Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, an unprecedented experiment in jihadist statehood.

The Iraq-born Baghdadi appeared at the Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, days later to declare himself “caliph” and urge the world’s Muslims to move in.

It remains the last public appearance to date for the jihadist supremo, whose fate and whereabouts are currently unclear and whose “state” has been shrinking for two years.

(Feature image source: AFP)