Antiquities expert beheaded by ISIS

Mr Khaled al-Assaad
Mr Khaled al-Assaad

BEIRUT • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has beheaded the 82-year- old retired chief archaeologist of Palmyra, who refused to leave the ancient city when the militants captured it, Syria's antiquities chief has said.

A Unesco World Heritage site famed for well-preserved Greco- Roman ruins, Palmyra was seized from government forces in May amid fears that ISIS might destroy its priceless heritage as it had done in other parts of Syria and Iraq.

Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said he had urged Mr Khaled al-Assaad to leave Palmyra, but he had refused. "He told us 'I am from Palmyra and I will stay here even if they kill me.'"

Mr Abdulkarim said Mr al-Assaad was executed on Tuesday in Palmyra, in central Homs province.

"Daesh has executed one of Syria's most important antiquities experts," he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Photos purporting to show Mr al-Assaad's body tied to a post in Palmyra were circulated online by ISIS supporters. The execution is one of hundreds that have been carried out by ISIS in and around Palmyra since they took the city.

"He was the head of antiquities in Palmyra for 50 years and had been retired for 13 years," Mr Abdulkarim said. He hailed Mr al-Assaad as a leading expert on the ancient history of the city, which grew from a caravan oasis first mentioned in the second millennium BC.

Mr Abdulkarim said Mr al-Assaad's body had been hung in the city's ancient ruins after being beheaded. But the photo circulating online showed a body on a median strip of a main road, tied to what appeared to be a lamp post.

A sign attached to the body identified it as that of Mr al-Assaad.

It accused him of being an apostate and a regime loyalist for representing Syria in conferences abroad with "infidels", as well as being director of Palmyra's "idols".

Mr Abdulkarim said Mr al-Assaad had been detained by ISIS last month along with his son, Walid, the current antiquities director for Palmyra, who was later released.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, also reported the execution, saying Mr al-Assaad had been killed in a "public square in Palmyra in front of dozens of people".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Antiquities expert beheaded by ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe