The so-called Islamic State (IS) beheaded an elderly Syrian antiquities scholar in the ancient town of Palmyra, according to reports.
The jihadists executed 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad in a square off Palymra's museum on Tuesday afternoon, claimed the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the official SANA news agency. SOHR, which collects information from a network of local sources, added that an audience of dozens had been present.
SANA quoted Damascus Antiquities and Museums Department head Maamoun Abdulkarim as saying that al-Asaad's body had then been hung from a column in the remains of the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city on modern Palmyra's outskirts.
IS detained the former director-general of Palmyra's antiquities operations and museums one month previously, Abdulkarim added, and had since interrogated him in an attempt to find treasures in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But pictures circulated on IS-linked social media accounts appear to show al-Asaad's bloodied body tied to a traffic light post in the middle of a main road, with his severed head between his feet. A sign tied to the corpse identifies it as al-Asaad and describes him as an "apostate" and "supporter of the Alawite regime," in reference to the minority religious group of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It goes on to say that the antiquities expert had represented Syria in international conferences branded as "kuffar" (a derogatory term used to refer to non-Muslims), and that he'd had various connections and communications with Alawite and government figures.
IS overran Palmyra in May, pushing out government forces and prompting fears for the ancient ruins and antiquities displayed in the town's museum. The group enforces an extreme interpretation of Islamic law in its self-styled "caliphate" and brands statues and other historical artifacts as idolatrous.
IS has destroyed archaeological sites in other areas under its control in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and many feared that Palmyra would suffer the same fate. It had reportedly destroyed an 1,800 year old statue of a lion at the gates of the museum and is said to have laid explosives in famous sites. Many of Palmyra's museum pieces were removed from the city before IS's arrival, however.
It also released a video in July showing 20 captured government troops being shot dead by young IS members in Palmyra's amphitheatre.
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