Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists beheaded an antiquities scholar in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and hung his body on a column in a main square of the historic site, Syria's antiquities chief said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
ISIS captured Palmyra in central Syria from government forces in May, but its jihadists are not known to have damaged the city’s monumental Roman-era ruins despite their reputation for destroying artifacts they view as “idolatrous” under their interpretation of Islam.
Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said on Tuesday the family of the scholar, Khaled Asaad, had informed him that the 82-year-old who worked for over 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra was executed by Islamic State on Tuesday.
Asaad had been detained and interrogated for over a month by the ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants, he told Reuters.
"The continued presence of these criminals in this city is a curse and bad omen on (Palmyra) and every column and every archaeological piece in it," said Abdulkarim.
Abdulkarim said Asaad was known for several scholarly works published in international archaeological journals on Palmyra, which in antiquity flourished as an important trading hub along the Silk Road.
The killing of the scholar is not the first one carried out by ISIS in Palmyra. In July, the group released a video showing 25 Syrian government soldiers being executed by teenagers in the ancient amphitheater in the city.
Before the city's capture by Islamic State, Syrian officials said they moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern they would be destroyed by the jihadists.
In June, Islamic State did blow up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which they regarded as pagan and sacrilegious, according to Reuters.
The group’s destruction of artifacts was condemned by the UN’s cultural body, UNESCO, which described it as an attempt to strip the people of their heritage in order "to enslave them".
Palmyra is a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site.