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Syria finds body believed to be of famed archaeologist, murdered by IS militants, Khaled Al-Asaad Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

Syria finds body believed to be of famed archaeologist, murdered by IS militants, Khaled Al-Asaad

Khaled al-Asaad refused to reveal the location of hidden artefacts to the Islamic State. [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 February, 2021

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Syria believes that it has discovered the remains of archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad, who was beheaded by the Islamic State in 2015.

The body of famed Syrian archaeologist, Khaled Al-Asaad, has reportedly been discovered in Kahloul, east of Palmyra

Al-Asaad, 82, was beheaded by Islamic State group (IS) militants in 2015, after he refused to reveal the location of valuable artefacts that had been hidden away. 

The suspected remains of Al-Asaad were discovered with two other bodies in a grave 10 kilometres east of the historic city of Palmyra, and state media reported that DNA tests will be conducted to confirm the identity of the remains. 

IS took control of the ancient site of Palmyra, known in Arabic as Tadmor, and the nearby modern town in May 2015. 

During their period of control, they committed numerous horrific crimes against the civilian population in the area, as well as destroying parts of Palmyra, which had stood since the 1st and 2nd centuries. 

The extremist group deemed the site and many of its contents to be idolatrous. 

Al-Asaad had devoted his life to studying the ruins and artefacts at Palmyra, spending more than 50 years of his life at the site. He retired as head of antiquities in 2003, but remained in the area to continue his research. 

As IS approached, many fled to Damascus, including Al-Asaad's three sons and his son-in-law. Asaad refused to leave, saying "I am from Palmyra and I will stay here even if they kill me".

After taking control of the area, IS arrested the archeologist and interrogated him, demanding to know the location of the site's artefacts that had been hidden away. 

When Al-Asaad refused, he was publicly beheaded in a square in Tadmor. 

A gruesome photograph of the archeologist's body, tied to a pole and labeled as Palmyra's "director of idolatry" was circulated by Palmyra-based activists. 

Read more: With the world distracted, Islamic State readies for a resurgence in Syria

At the time, Amr Al-Azm, a former Syrian antiquities official who knew Asaad personally said, "he was a fixture, you can't write about Palmyra’s history or anything to do with Palmyrian work without mentioning Khaled Al-Asaad. It's like you can't talk about Egyptology without talking about Howard Carter".

Historian Tom Holland wrote an obituary for the Syrian archaeologist at the time of his death in The Daily Mail

"By standing his ground, he made a statement heard around the world: that the traditions embodied by Palmyra, the demonstration from history of what can be achieved by different peoples living together, are worth dying for," wrote Holland.

Al-Asaad wasn't the only public execution that occurred during IS' control. One month earlier, the group had utilised the ancient Roman amphitheatre to execute 25 government soldiers. 

Many of Palmyra's most treasured artefacts were saved by Al-Asaad's sons and other archaeologists, who loaded trucks with important and historically significant items and transported them to safety, at times, just minutes before the extremist group arrived. 

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