ISIS Publicly Executes Syrian Antiquities Expert, Destroys Ancient Temple

Photo: Marc Deville/Getty Images.
Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests dating from the first century.
Updated on August 25 at 10:25 a.m.: ISIS destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra, where Khaled al-Asaad had served as museum director. The temple, called Baal Shamin, was UNESCO-listed. Its destruction is part of an ongoing campaign by ISIS to rid Syria of sites and artifacts that testify to religions besides Islam. This post was originally published on August 19, 2015.

The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has murdered a Syrian antiquities expert and museum director after he refused to lead them to ancient treasures the terrorist group reportedly sought to destroy. ISIS, which has taken over swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria in the hopes of establishing a state that adheres to strict Muslim law, publicly executed Khaled al-Asaad, who worked as a professor and held the title of general manager for Palmyra, one of Syria's most ancient sites and museum, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The scholar was murdered in front of a crowd on Tuesday in Palmyra's square. ISIS has controlled the city since mid-May, according to The Wall Street Journal. He had been captured and held prisoner by ISIS for more than a month before he was beheaded. Al-Asaad had spent much of his life overseeing precious artifacts from one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a city that, between the first and second centuries, was the cultural center of the Middle East. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. He was executed after he reportedly refused to lead his captors to the historical sites they sought to destroy, The Guardian reports. ISIS fighters have been targeting and obliterating ancient artifacts, including collections found in Iraq's Mosul Museum in February and tombs near Palmyra in June. Scholars and friends around the world have taken to social media to decry al-Asaad's murder.
A photo that has not yet been verified reportedly shows al-Asaad's body with a placard accusing him of, among other things, "managing Palmyra’s collection of 'idols.'" The antiquities scholar's murder is only the latest barbaric act by ISIS. Last week, New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi exposed the way ISIS has kidnapped thousands of Yazidi women and children, forcing them into a network of sexual slavery and organized rape. The family of Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker who was kidnapped by ISIS, also revealed how the terrorist group's leader had repeatedly raped and tortured her before she was eventually killed earlier this year.

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