Terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) beheaded an antiquities scholar in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and hung his body on a column in a main square of the historic site, Syria’s antiquities chief said on Tuesday.
ISIL, which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq, captured Palmyra in central Syria from government forces in May, but is not known to have damaged its monumental Roman-era ruins, despite their reputation for destroying artifacts they view as idolatrous under their interpretation of Islam.
Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said the family of Khaled Asaad had informed him that the 82-year-old scholar who worked for over 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra was executed by ISIL on Tuesday.
Asaad had been detained and interrogated for over a month by the Sunni Muslim armed fighters, Abdulkarim said.
Abdulkarim said Asaad was known for several scholarly works published in international archaeological journals on Palmyra, where antiquity flourished as an important trading hub along the Silk Road.
He also worked over the past few decades with U.S., French, German and Swiss archeological missions on excavations and research in Palmyra’s famed 2,000-year-old ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including Roman tombs and the Temple of Bel.
Before the city’s capture, Syrian officials said they moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern they would be destroyed by ISIL fighters.