However, ISIS claims that US aircraft destroyed the complex, in a statement issued by its news outlet Amaq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said blowing up the mosque was “an official declaration of defeat” by IS.
Aerial photos show that the mosque and minaret has been largely destroyed. The Iraqi commander in charge of the offensive to retake Mosul said troops were within 50 metres of the mosque when IS “committed another historical crime”.
A senior US commander in Iraq said IS had destroyed “one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures”.
“This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organisation must be annihilated,” Maj Gen Joseph Martin said.
The jihadists have destroyed a string of important heritage sites in Iraq and Syria.
The UN has said that IS may be holding more than 100,000 people in Mosul as human shields.
Why would IS blow up the Nuri mosque? By Paul Adams, BBC News World Affairs correspondent.
It is Mosul’s most famous Sunni mosque, named after the Muslim leader, Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, famous for waging jihad against Christian crusaders.
And it is where the leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made his one and only public appearance, shortly after his group declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
But IS fighters have shown scant regard for history or culture in the three years since their lightning advance across northern Iraq.
Reports that they rigged the Nuri mosque with explosives have been circulating since Iraqi government forces began their effort to take back the city nine months ago.
Destruction of the mosque, most observers assumed, would mark the group’s final act of angry defiance before finally losing their grip on Mosul. ISIS claims that the mosque was destroyed by a US airstrike. This seems unlikely but such is the savage nature of the struggle for control of Mosul that it’s fair to say that preserving the city’s cultural and religious heritage has not been a high priority for anyone involved.