A picture taken on June 19, 2017 shows the leaning Al-Hadba minaret, which is part of the al-Nuri mosque as the Iraqi forces advance towards the Old City on June 19, 2017 during the ongoing offensive to retake the last district still held by the Islamic State (IS) group fighters. (AFP PHOTO)
MOSUL, Iraq, June 21 (Xinhua) -- The extremist Islamic State (IS) militants have blown up Mosul's historical al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret, as Iraqi forces are pushing near the Mosque area in the western side of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The extremist militants blew up the mosque building and its minaret as the commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces were advancing to new positions, just 50 meters away from the landmark mosque in central of the old city in the western side of Mosul, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
The mosque with its famous leaning minaret, which gave the city its nickname "al-Hadbaa" or "the hunchback," has a symbolic value, as it was the place where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the cross-border "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in his sole public appearance in July 2014.
The move of the IS militants came as the CTS commandos launched a new push since the early morning toward al-Nuri mosque and the surrounding areas, fighting fierce house-to-house battles and recapturing some alleys near the mosque.
During the past few weeks, the CTS forces, federal police and army soldiers made slow progress by the stiff resistance of IS militants and a large number of roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings, in addition to IS snipers who took positions in the buildings of heavily-populated neighborhoods.
According to UN reports, some 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the IS-held areas in the old city center and the adjacent al-Shifaa neighborhood. The extremist group is using the civilians as human shields.
Iraqi forces, backed by international coalition, launched their final push on Sunday morning to drive out IS militants from al-Shifaa neighborhood and most of the densely-populated old city center in the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of Tigris River.
Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.