Reports have emerged that Syrian antiquities expert Khalid al-Asaad has been murdered by ISIS in a public square in front of a crowd. He was captured by the jihadists of the Islamic State shortly after they took control of Palmyra in Syria. He was detained for weeks before his public execution.
The 83-year-old Asaad was a retired chief of antiquities for Palmyra and was a caretaker of some of Syria’s greatest archaeological treasures for decades. He held positions as the director of antiquities and the director of the museum in Palmyra from 1963 until his retirement in 2003.
He was a highly intelligent person, teaching himself to read the city’s ancient inscriptions and presenting in English at many academic conferences. His intimate knowledge of Palmyra’s history made him essential to the work of foreign researchers.
Mr. Asaad was born in Palmyra and spent the majority of his life there. He had dedicated his life to exploring the history of Syria. During his weeks as a prisoner of ISIS, he was repeatedly interrogated about the location of the city’s hidden treasures. As no announcements of these treasures being found have surfaced, it is a reasonable assumption that the antiquities expert died still protecting those treasures.
ISIS fighters dragged the antiquities expert into a public square where a masked swordsman waited to cut off his head. After the deed was done, his body was suspended from wrists from a traffic light and his head was placed between his feet with his glasses still on. A photo of the event was distributed on social media by Islamic State supporters.
ISIS has been able to establish a self-declared caliphate that follows a punishing interpretation of Islam in the parts of Syria and Iraq it controls. Punishments under the regime are swift and brutal, often involving the killing of the offenders in public demonstrations.