The Iraqi military on Thursday announced the recapture of the iconic Grand al-Nuri mosque in Mosul where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance.
The announcement of the recapture of the mosque – which ISIS blew up last week as Iraqi forces closed in — comes three years to the day after the terrorists declared a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria.
“Counter-Terrorism Service forces control the Nuri mosque and Al-Hadba (minaret),” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
After a senior special forces commander said the mosque had not in fact been retaken, the operations command clarified that it meant Iraqi forces had isolated the area and were “advancing toward the completion of the goals.”
“Their fictitious state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV.
Baghdadi appeared at Friday prayers at the Nuri mosque in 2014, soon after ISIS seized Iraq’s second city.
Three years later, Baghdadi’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown, and ISIS has lost much of the territory it overran in 2014.
The jihadists blew up the mosque and minaret on June 21 as they put up increasingly desperate resistance to the advance of Iraqi forces.
The destruction of the 850 year-old mosque came three days after government forces launched an assault on the Old City, the last district of Mosul still under ISIS control.
About 100,000 residents are believed to still be trapped in the district by the terrorist organization, which has been using civilians as human shields to defend its last redoubt in Mosul.
The area still controlled by the militants is small but its narrow streets and the presence of so many civilians has made the operation perilous.
The jihadists have been offering fierce resistance in the Old City, with barrages of mortar fire and a huge number of booby traps slowing the Iraqi advance.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “issued instructions to bring the battle to its conclusion,” his office said on Wednesday.