Islamic State radicals stormed a site of ancient religious ruins recently and demanded from its 82-year-old caretaker locations of its most precious artifacts. He refused, they decapitated him and put his remains on display.
Khaled Asaad was a Syrian archaeologist and a scholar who had dedicated over 50 years to studying the ruins of the countless civilizations that had occupied the territory of what is now Syria. The jihadis reportedly beheaded him Tuesday upon his refusal to cooperate.
Photos online purported to show Asaad’s headless body suspended upside down from a pillar in a public square. Near his body was a sign, according to The Guardian, explaining that he was responsible for Palmyra’s collection of “idols.”
The news of his death came from Syria’s culture ministry, which has struggled to protect the country’s ancient treasures amid the indiscriminate havoc wreaked by the 4-year Syrian civil war. Despite fears that Islamic State would pillage the city’s ruins and artifacts, so far the group’s focus has been on the people of Palmyra.
According to the culture ministry’s statement, Asaad was born in Palmyra and after receiving his education, served as director of the city’s antiquities work from 1963 to 2003, including the national museum on the site.
He was well-known in the world of archaeology for his academic publications and his knowledge of Aramaic, a language used on the region’s trade routes before the rise of Islam and the Arabic language.
During its sweep across large parts of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State has profited from smuggling priceless artifacts, many of which are several thousand years old.
The terrorist group’s interpretation of Islam condemns the preservation of pre-Islamic artifacts, especially religious ones, as pagan and idolatrous.
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