Distinctive church among the survivors in Mosul
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 22, 2017
MOSUL, Iraq – A historic church thought to have been blown up by the Islamic State has been found intact following the liberation of Mosul’s Old City.
Al-Saa Church, also known as the “Clock Church” after its distinctive clock tower, is only a few hundred yards from the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014.
Militants used explosives last month to demolish the 12th century mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret – known as al-Hadba, or “the hunchback” – but spared the nearby church.
That the church survived is a surprise since it was reputed to have been destroyed more than a year ago.
In April 2016, Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper reported that the church had been blown up – something that would have been routine for ISIS, which has targeted historic buildings and ancient relics throughout the Middle East during their three-year reign of terror.
On Thursday, a group of Iraqi federal police and an armored Humvee were parked beside the damaged but relatively intact church.
The clock tower, a gift from Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III of France, when the church was built by Dominican Fathers in the 1870s, still stands, minus its clock, amid a nightmarish landscape of collapsed homes and bomb-cratered streets.
A wall beside the church has been spray-painted with a message from “Lt. Mohammed EOD – IED,” suggesting the area may have been cleared of booby traps, though the police walk gingerly in and around the building.
One of them, Sgt. Bassam Nadhim Ibrahim, said security forces killed many enemy fighters in the battle to capture the church.
Ibrahim said U.S. ground troops weren’t involved in the battle to liberate the church.
“They only helped from the air,” he said of American forces, who bombarded the Old City with air and artillery strikes to overcome ISIS defenses.
“It was a base,” he said of the church, which was used as a headquarters by an ISIS unit known as the “Devil’s Battalion,”
Ibrahim and other police officers climbed up a metal gate propped against a wall to tear down a black ISIS banner inside the church.
Bulletproof vests marked “police” and military clothing abandoned by the militants remained on the floor of the building.
The church roof, reached by clambering up a pile of rubble and some concrete steps, overlooks the ruins of al-Nuri and offers 360-degree views of the Old City.
It was a sniper’s nest for the militants. Once it was captured, Iraqi security forces used it to call in air and artillery strikes on enemy positions nearby, police officers said.