ISIS extremists behead archaeologist in Palmyra: Syrian official

An image grab taken from a video made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Homs on July 4 this year allegedly shows 25 Syrian government soldiers kneeling as, what appears to be children or teenagers, wearing desert camouflage walk beneath them
An image grab taken from a video made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Homs on July 4 this year allegedly shows 25 Syrian government soldiers kneeling as, what appears to be children or teenagers, wearing desert camouflage walk beneath them in the ancient amphitheatre in the city of Palmyra. The executions in the Palmyra amphitheatre were first reported on May 27.PHOTO: AFP

DAMASCUS (REUTERS) - ISIS extremists 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 (Aug 18).

ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) captured Palmyra in central Syria from government forces in May. The group is not known to have damaged Palmyra's monumental Roman-era ruins despite their reputation for destroying artefacts they view as idolatrous under their puritanical 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 more than 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra was executed by ISIS on Tuesday.

Mr Asaad had been detained and interrogated for over a month by the ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants, he told Reuters.

"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 Abdulkarim said Mr Asaad was known for several scholarly works published in international archaeological journals on Palmyra, which in antiquity flourished as an important trading hub along the Silk Road.

He also worked over the past few decades with US, French, German and Swiss archaeological missions on excavations and research in Palmyra's famed 2,000-year-old ruins, a Unesco World Heritage Site which is home to Roman tombs and the Temple of Bel.

Before the city's capture by ISIS, Syrian officials said they had moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern they would be destroyed by the militants.

In June, ISIS blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures.