BAGHDAD – Islamic extremist militants blew up a revered Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah in Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, on Thursday, residents of the city said.
The residents said the Islamic State militants, who overran Mosul in June and imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law on the city, first ordered everyone out of the Mosque of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah, then blew it up.
The mosque was built on an archaeological site dating back to 8th century BC and is said to be the burial place of the prophet, who in stories from both the Bible and Quran is swallowed by a whale.
It was renovated in the 1990's under Iraq's late dictator Saddam Hussein and until the recent militant blitz that engulfed Mosul, remained a popular destination for religious pilgrims from around the world.
Several nearby houses were also damaged by the blast, said the residents, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared for their own safety.
The residents told The Associated Press that the militants claimed the mosque had become a place for apostasy, not prayer. The extremists also blew up another mosque nearby on Thursday, Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan mosque, they said.
The attack came hours after Iraqi lawmakers elected veteran Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum as the nation's new president, as they struggle to form a new government amid the militant blitz that has engulfed much of northern and western Iraq.
Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops amid the blitz offensive last month by Al Qaeda breakaway Islamic State group that captured large swaths of land in the country's west and north, including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. The militants have also seized a huge chunk of territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border, and have declared a self-styled caliphate in the territory they control.