ISIS Beheaded an 82-Year-Old Archaeologist Who Refused to Reveal the Location of Ancient Artifacts

“When ISIS took the city they rounded up anybody they considered to be an enemy.”

In July, ISIS militants executed 25 Syrian soldiers in the ruins of Palmyra's Roman amphitheater.Sipa via AP Images

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


In May, the Islamist insurgent group ISIS seized Palmyra, a 2,000-year-old Syrian city. Not long afterwards, it smashed the UNESCO World Heritage site’s cultural relics with sledgehammers, blew up its shrines, and hacked apart the famous Lion of al-Lat, a limestone statue carved in the first century B.C. ISIS fighters bloodied its Roman amphitheater when they used it as a stage to execute 25 captives.

Yesterday, the so-called Islamic State’s bloody occupation of the ancient site continued with the beheading of 82-year-old Khaled al-Asaad, a renowned archeologist who had served as the keeper of Palmyra for more than 50 years. Asaad reportedly refused to reveal the location of Palmyra’s artifacts to ISIS. After over a month of interrogation, the insurgents removed his head, and then hung his corpse from a column in a main square.

Asaad “was a repository of information. He knew every aspect of Palmyra,” says Amr al-Azm, an archeologist who works with a secret network of activists trying to safeguard Syria’s cultural heritage. “He’d seen or been involved with the site for so long that he was exceedingly familiar with it. And it was the kind of information that you acquire by being there, by working there. This is the kind of practical, firsthand knowledge that is really difficult to replace.”

For more than half a century, Asaad was Palmyra’s head of antiquities, and was instrumental in the excavation and renovation that brought it to international fame. Just before ISIS took Palmyra earlier this year, Asaad oversaw the effort to rescue the site’s precious artifacts, shipping many of them from the city’s museum to safety. When ISIS captured the city, he stayed on.

Asaad’s work in preserving Palmyra’s monuments and artifacts would have made him a prime target for ISIS, says al-Azm. “When ISIS took the city they rounded up anybody they considered to be an enemy.”

Khaled al-Asaad SANA via AP

 

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate