Members of the Takfiri Daesh militant group have decapitated a leading antiquities scholar in Syria’s ancient central city of Palmyra, and later hung his body from a column in the main square of the city.
Daesh extremists beheaded 81-year-old Khaled Asaad, who worked for more than 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra, on Tuesday.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian state antiquities chief, said Daesh militants detained Asaad over a month ago, and interrogated him to obtain information about treasures in Palmyra, located 215 kilometers (133 miles) northeast of the capital, Damascus, but all to no avail.
Asaad had reportedly published several scholarly articles on Palmyra in international archaeological journals. He had also worked with the US, French, German and Swiss archaeologists over the past few decades on excavations and research in Palmyra’s historic sites, including 2,000-year-old Roman tombs as well as the Temple of Bel.
Daesh took control of Palmyra, which is on the list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Sites on May 21.
Palmyra and Tadmur, the modern town that adjoins it, have been the scene of recent fighting between Syrian government troops and ISIL militants. Multiple news reports say government troops left the city ahead of an advance by the terrorists.
UNESCO has appealed to Syria’s warring factions to “make every effort to prevent” Palmyra’s destruction.
On July 2, Daesh Takfiris destroyed the renowned statue of Lion of al-Lat, which was a matchless piece of art three meters (10 feet) tall and weighing 15 tons, outside the Palmyra museum.
The conflict in Syria, which started in March 2011, has reportedly claimed more than 240,000 lives up until now.
The violence has also forced over four million Syrians to take refuge in neighboring countries, namely Jordan and Lebanon. More than 7.2 million others have been displaced within Syria, according to the UN.
On March 4, Iraqi officials announced that Daesh Takfiri militants had “bulldozed” the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud located south of Iraq’s conflict-ridden northern city of Mosul. “I condemn with the strongest force the destruction of the site at Nimrud,” said Irina Bokova, the UNESCO head, the next day, adding, “We cannot stay silent.
The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime, and I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up against this new barbarity.”