Islamic State (IS) militants have beheaded a senior Palmyra antiquities scholar and hung his body on a column in a main square of the historic Syrian city, Syria's antiquities chief has said. Khaled Asaad, 82, was the head of antiquities in Palmyra for more than 50 years, antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said. Khaled Asaad was taken hostage by the group after it seized the Unesco World Heritage site earlier this year.
He had been retired for 13 years.
Mr Asaad's family informed the antiquities chief that Islamic State jihadists had executed him.
Mr Asaad had been detained and interrogated for more than a month by the ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants.
"Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded ... and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the centre of a square in Palmyra," Mr Abdulkarim said. "The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on [Palmyra] and every column and every archaeological piece in it."
Mr Asaad was well known for several scholarly works published in international archaeological journals on Palmyra, which flourished as an important antiquities trading hub along the Silk Road.
According to Syrian state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Assad was beheaded on Tuesday in a square outside the town's museum. The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said dozens of people gathered to witness the killing. His body was then taken to Palmyra's archaeological site and hung from one of the Roman columns,
According to the Telegraph this evening
The jihadists had wanted to extract information about the whereabouts of precious Palmyra antiquities which had been removed as the extremist group advanced on the city. . . The sandy amphitheatre, one of the ancient city’s most famous sites, has been repurposed as a stage for executions. Public squares have been turned into forums from which the militants trumpet their latest diktats, and a site for their brutal punishments.
Since sweeping to power through large chunks of Syria and Iraq last year, Isil have damaged some of the region’s most priceless archaeological treasures. Unesco said in July that one fifth of Iraq's estimated 10,000 official sites had been heavily looted under Isil control.
Some sites in Syria had been ransacked so badly they no longer had any value for historians and archaeologists, Unesco said, describing the damage as “cultural cleansing”.