MOSUL – Iraqi forces have stated Thursday that they have retaken the iconic Mosul mosque from the Islamic State militants, Pakistantribe.com reported.

This is the mosque where jihadist chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance.

A top special forces commander told AFP that while the Nuri mosque — which was blown up by the Islamic State group last week — was close to being recaptured, it had not been retaken yet.

“Counter-Terrorism Service forces control the Nuri mosque and Al-Hadba (minaret),” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement.

But Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi said that while Iraqi forces were close to retaking the mosque, they were still some 20 meters (yards) away.

The mosque and its famed Al-Hadba (hunchback) leaning minaret were Mosul landmarks and also held major significance in the history of IS rule in Iraq.

Baghdadi appeared during Friday prayers at Nuri mosque in 2014, soon after IS seized Iraq s second city, calling on Muslims to obey him.

Three years later, Baghdadi s fate and whereabouts remain unknown and IS 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.

Officials from Iraq and the US-led anti-IS coalition said the destruction of the site was a sign of the jihadist group’s imminent loss of Mosul, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi calling it an “official declaration of defeat”.

The loss of the iconic 12th-century minaret — one of the country s most recognizable monuments sometimes referred to as Iraq s Tower of Pisa — left the country in shock.

But the destruction had been widely anticipated, with commanders saying IS, also known as ISIS and Daesh, would not have allowed Iraqi forces to score a hugely symbolic victory by recapturing the site.

IS claimed on its Amaq propaganda agency that the site was hit in a US air strike, but the US-led coalition said it was the jihadists who had “destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq s great treasures”.

Russia has said it is seeking to verify whether the IS leader, whose whereabouts have been unknown for months, was killed when its warplanes hit the group s leaders in a night air raid in Syria last month. – AFP

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