UN says IS targets children to hold Mosul civilians hostage

Frederick Owens
June 22, 2017

The Islamic State leveled the famed al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul, just as US -backed Iraqi forces were closing in on the historic site Wednesday, the USA military said.

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.

The army's 9th armoured division seized al-Shifaa district, which includes the city's main hospitals, alongside the western bank of the Tigris river, a military statement said.

The Grand al Nuri mosque, built in the 12th century and featuring an iconic leaning minaret, was reportedly destroyed amid the massive USA -backed offensive to push ISIS out of Mosul.

ISIS's Amaq news agency accused American aircraft of destroying the mosque, a claim swiftly denied by the US -led global coalition fighting the hardline Sunni group.

A video seen on social media showed the minaret collapsing in a belch of sand and dust as a woman lamented in the background: "The minaret, the minaret, the minaret".

Iraqi forces said Tuesday they were fighting fierce battles with the Islamic State group and rescuing escaping civilians as they pursued their offensive against Mosul's jihadist-held Old City.

Iraqi government forces have registered more territorial gains in the militant-held Old City of Mosul as they continue their operations to push Takfiri Daesh terrorists out of their last urban stronghold in the Arab country.

It adds to a long list of Iraqi heritage sites and monuments the jihadist organisation has destroyed in Iraq and Syria since al-Baghdadi created his "caliphate" straddling both countries, nearly exactly three years ago. The first day of the Eid falls this year on June 25 or 26 in Iraq.

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Backed by air cover provided by a USA -led coalition, the Iraqi military is now engaged in a months-long campaign to recapture Mosul, Islamic State's last stronghold in northern Iraq.

"Perhaps they won't want to leave this place that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took to the security forces and maybe they'll send a message accusing Iraqi units of of destroying them", he predicted.

Baghdadi 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 USA and Iraqi military sources.

Earlier this month Mosul residents reported ISIS fighters began sealing off the area around the mosque.

The mosque and its leaning minaret have stood for eight centuries.

The tilt gave the landmark its popular name: the hunchback.

Nabeel Nouriddin, a historian and archaeologist specialising in Mosul and its Nineveh region, said the minaret had not been renovated since 1970, making it particularly vulnerable to blasts even if it was not directly hit.

Islamic State fighters have destroyed many Muslim religious sites, churches and shrines, as well as ancient Assyrian and Roman-era sites in Iraq and in Syria.

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