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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


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

 

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a 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