BAGHDAD — Islamic State militants on Wednesday detonated Mosul’s symbolic al-Nuri mosque, the site where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last made a public appearance, an Iraqi military statement said.
Iraqi Lieutenant General Abdul-Ameer Rasheed Yarallah, the Mosul operation head, said his fighters were 50 meters away from the mosque at the time of the blast.
The mosque was the site where al-Baghdadi last appeared in public, giving a sermon promoting his self-styled caliphate in 2014, when the radical group overran swaths of Iraq in a blitz.
At the same time, the Islamic State radical group accused the U.S.-led coalition of destroying al-Nuri mosque with a strike, the militant group’s semi-official Amaq news agency reported.
During the past few weeks, government forces have retaken several neighborhoods in western Mosul, squeezing the Islamic State hardliners into a small, but densely populated, area of the city.
On Sunday, Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air power advanced against Islamic State amid a push aimed at dislodging the extremist group from the last area under the militia’s control in its former stronghold of Mosul.
Officials says the latest push began with militants besieged in the center of the city.
The Mosul mission coincides with a major offensive, also backed by the United States, by local fighters in neighboring Syria aimed at driving Islamic State from its de facto capital of al-Raqqa in war-torn Syria.