Islamic State Decapitates Famous Antiquities Scholar, Secures His Torso To A Pillar, His Disembodied Head Between His Legs

Islamic State fighters continued their reign of terror across their conquered territories by executing a well-respected archaeologist in the Syrian city of Palmyra on Tuesday before a crowd of onlookers. Khaled al-Asaad, 82, widely known for his work in preserving the antiquities of the ancient city, was killed by his Islamic State captors after they had tried fruitlessly for a month to extract information from him on hidden treasures.

Asaad was suspended from a post at a major thoroughfare, his disembodied head planted between his legs. A white sign with the Arabic word for “heretic” splashed in red, was attached to his brutalized body, displayed on social media Wednesday.

According to CNN, Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s director of the General Department of Antiquities and Museums, begged Asaad to leave Palmyra in May as IS forces penetrated the city. Abdulkarim recalled how Asaad refused to flee his birthplace, and expressed his resolution with the following words.

“Whatever happens, happens. I cannot go against my conscience.”

According to BBC, his killers found him guilty of representing Syria at overseas conferences with “infidels,” in addition to his crime of being the director of Palmyra’s “idols”. His was one of several executions conducted by the Islamic State forces within the vicinity of Palmyra since the city fell in May.

CNN described Asaad as a retired university professor and general manager for antiquities and museums in Palmyra, which was a caravan waystation in the second millennium B.C. for travelers across the desert. He authored several books and scientific works in collaboration with other archeologists, and among the titles attributed to him are The Palmyra Sculptures and Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra and the Orient.

Palmyra was designated a UNESCO world heritage site early in the twentieth century, and here Asaad dedicated 50 years of his life helping Syrian, U.S. and European scientists study the ancient Roman-era ruins. The site was in his charge for four decades until his retirement in 2003, after which he assumed the role of expert in the department of antiquities and museums.


The Islamic State has shown its scoffing disregard for ancient artifacts and historical sites all throughout its campaign to establish a caliphate. The statue of a lion at the Palmyra museum entrance was demolished, following the mining of historic structures, temples and monuments. IS justifies its destruction of archaeological sites by classifying them religious shrines, therefore idolatrous.

Fox News indicated that in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Islamic State followers destroyed artifacts with hammers and drills inside a museum. Their trail of destruction in Iraq also included two UNESCO world heritage sites – the 3,000-year-old Nimrud location and the 2,000-year-old Hatra location.

The online image of the widely respected scholar brutalized and mocked, has put the Islamic State at the center of international condemnation.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]