Islamic State group jihadists mutilated the body of a famed Syrian archaeologist after killing him execution-style in the ancient city of Palmyra last week, his family said on Sunday.
Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra's antiquities chief for 50 years, was on Tuesday beheaded by Islamic State militants who tied his body to a post before hanging it in the city's ruins, amid international outrage. "Residents of Palmyra told me that IS had cut up my father's body into pieces," said Mohammad al-Assaad, one of Khaled's sons, said at a wake held today at Damascus National Museum.
"My father used to always say, 'I'll die standing up, like the palm tree of Palmyra,'" Mohammad told AFP. He added that despite threats from jihadists, his father had refused to leave Palmyra.
Syria's national antiquities chief Mamoun Abdulkarim gave a similar account.
"Khaled's cousins, who also work in antiquities, told me that the group removed his body from the pole and mutilated it," said Abdulkarim. Omaral-Assaad, another of Khaled's sons, said his father had attempted to hide from IS in Palmyra after the jihadists overran the city on May 21.
But Khaled and his son Walid, the current head of antiquities in Palmyra, were detained by IS and questioned about stores of gold and artefacts. Though they released them both after one week, the jihadists later recaptured the 82-year old chief archeologist.
The family was shocked to see him dragged out to Palmyra's public square to be murdered, Omar said. The family fled to the government-controlled city of Homs, and then on to Damascus. The killing is one of hundreds that have been carried out by IS in and around Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site famed for its well-preserved Greco-Roman ruins.
So far, Palmyra's most famous sites have been left intact, though there are reports IS has mined them, and the group reportedly destroyed a famous statue of a lion outside the city's museum in June. Most of the pieces in the museum were evacuated by antiquities staff before IS arrived, though the group has blown up several historic Muslim graves.