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IS group ‘beheads’ renowned Syrian archaeologist in Palmyra

AFP/SANA | An undated picture of Khaled al Assad released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on August 19, 2015

The Islamic State (IS) group has beheaded one of Syria’s most prominent antiquities scholars in Palmyra and put his body on public display by strapping it to one of the ancient town’s Roman columns, state media and an activist group said Wednesday.

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Photos purporting to show his body were also circulated online by IS group supporters.

The killing of Khaled al Asaad, who was in his early eighties, was the latest atrocity perpetrated by the group, which has so far captured a third of both Syria and Iraq.

Since the Islamist militants overran Palmyra in May, there have been fears they would demolish the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city at the ancient town’s edge, one of the Mideast’s most spectacular archaeological sites.

The IS group has caused wide consternation for destroying famed archaeological sites in Iraq.

According to the group’s radical version of Islam, statues and grave markers are considered to be idolatrous.

Syrian state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Assad was beheaded on Tuesday in a square outside the town’s museum. The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said dozens of people gathered to witness the killing.

Asaad had been held by the IS group for about a month, it added.

His body was then taken to Palmyra’s archaeological site and hung from one of the Roman columns, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, told SANA.

Asaad was “one of the most important pioneers in Syrian archaeology in the 20th century,” Abdulkarim said, adding that IS militants had tried to extract information from him about where some of the town’s treasures had been hidden to save them from destruction.

SANA said Asaad had been in charge of Palmyra’s archaeological site for four decades until 2003, when he retired. After retiring, he worked as an expert with the Antiquities and Museums Department.

Since falling to the IS group, Palmyra’s ancient site has remained intact but the militants destroyed a lion statue in the town dating back to the 2nd century. The statue, discovered in 1975, had stood at the gates of the town museum, and had been placed inside a metal box to protect it from damage.

In early July, the IS group also released a video showing the killing of some 20 captured government soldiers in Palmyra’s amphitheatre. They were shot dead by young IS group members armed with pistols.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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