ISIS militants beheaded a renowned Syrian archaeologist in the ancient town of Palmyra, and then hung his body from one of the town’s Roman columns.
NPR’s Alice Fordham reported on the brutal murder of 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad:
“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state media report the elderly Khaled al-Asaad was killed by ISIS militants in front of dozens of people. He had served as the director general for antiquities in the city, which is famous for its vast ruins. ISIS has held Palmyra since May. The militants have destroyed some tombs and sculpture there, declaring them heretical. State media quotes the national antiquities chief claiming ISIS had tried to get information from Asaad, who had refused, and says the militants exhibited the body by hanging it from a column.”
The antiquities minister, Mamoun Abdulkarim, was a friend of Asaad’s and — according to Alice’s reporting for All Things Considered — he begged Asaad to leave Syria “because [he] was very important.”
Asaad, however, did not leave and was captured by ISIS. The miilitants held him for a month, Alice reports, demanding to know the location of valuable antiquities.
“Most artifacts had been moved out of Palmyra as ISIS approached. The group stands accused of rampant looting and smuggling and Abdulkarim thinks they were angry Asaad didn’t answer their questions. They beheaded him, in front of dozens of people, then displayed his corpse with a sign accusing him of being a supporter of the Syrian regime. The group has also destroyed part of the site and some statues there, saying they are heretical.
“Syria had hundreds of ancient sites and museums before the civil war began, but much heritage has been damaged by various parties. History professor Amr al-Azm says a regime airstrike hit a museum and historic site close to Aleppo, and a mortar hit the citadel of Damascus last week, killing an archaeologist named Qassem al Abdullah.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Azm described Asaad as “irreplaceable,” saying, “he was a fixture, you can’t write about Palmyra’s history or anything to do with Palmyrian work without mentioning Khaled Asaad. It’s like you can’t talk about Egyptology without talking about Howard Carter.”