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Mosul mosque where Isis declared caliphate ‘has been recaptured’

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Iraqi forces claim to have recaptured the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul – where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself leader of Islamic State three years ago.

The seizure marks a highly symbolic moment in the war, placing government troops in the heart of the Old City – the last redoubt of Isis in Mosul – and probably within a fortnight of recapturing all of Mosul.

Baghdadi declared a caliphate from the mosque three years ago to the day – 29 June 2014 – at the height of the group’s power.

Isis last week toppled the Hadba minaret adjoining the mosque, causing extensive damage to the surrounding compound. The fight for the terror group’s last redoubt was grinding and savage, with Iraqi troops reporting house-to-house fighting with a battle-hardened enemy, which refused to surrender.

Iraqi special forces entered the compound and took control of the surrounding streets on Thursday afternoon, following a dawn push into the area, said Lt Gen Abdul Wahab al-Saadi.

Earlier, the special forces Maj Gen Sami al-Aridi warned that the site would need to be cleared by engineering teams as Isis fighters were likely to have rigged it with explosives.

Five Isis militants were killed on Wednesday while trying to swim across the Tigris river from the west to the east of the city, armed with explosives. The densely packed Old City is thought to still house up to 100 well armed extremists, as well as tens of thousands of civilians, who have been gradually streaming out of ravaged buildings to safety over the past week.

After months of fighting, the Isis hold in Mosul has shrunk to less than 0.8 square miles of territory, but the advances have come at considerable cost.

“There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble,” said special forces Maj Dhia Thamir, deployed inside the Old City.

Aridi acknowledged that some civilians have been killed by air strikes and artillery. “Of course there is collateral damage, it is always this way in war,” he said. “The houses are very old so any bombardment causes them to collapse completely.”

The mosque was one of the great monuments in Islam after the grand mosques of Mecca and Medina, al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, rivalling others such as the Amr ibn al-’As mosque in Egypt and other more modern structures built in recent centuries.

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 US and Iraqi military sources.(Theguardian)

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