Syria: IS militants behead archaeologist at Palmyra

2015-08-19 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The archaeologist who looked after ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria is reported to have been killed by Islamic State (IS) militants. Khaled Asaad was taken hostage by the group after it seized the Unesco World Heritage site earlier this year.

The family of the 82-year-old scholar said he had been beheaded by IS fighters, according to Syria's director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim.

Khaled Asaad, 82, has worked for 50 years at the archaeological site of Palmyra, and published many studies on the subject. He had also worked with international groups from France, Germany, Switzerland, the United States at the site considered  a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO.

Abdulkarim said that the scholar had been taken a month ago by militiamen and the Sunni extremists interrogated him continuously until his execution, which took place yesterday.

The militiamen of the Islamic state have occupied the archaeological site last May. In extending their rule in Syria and Iraq, they have destroyed many ancient artefacts and monuments, considered "heathen" and "idolatrous". So far no one knows how many artifacts or buildings have been destroyed in Palmira, a site that dates back to Roman times.

He was head of antiquities at the ruins, one of the archaeological jewels of the Middle East. On Tuesday, Mr Abdulkarim said the scholar's family told him that Mr Asaad had been killed and his body hung from a column in Palmyra's main square.

"Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded," 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."

Before the occupation by the Islamic state, Syrian officials had moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe areas, for fear that militants could destroy them. Last June, the Islamic state blew up two ancient temples in Palmyra, not part of the structures of the Roman era.

(Sources: BBC, AsiaNews)


(from Vatican Radio)