In August 2015, Islamic State militants dragged an octogenarian, bespectacled man into a public square in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and beheaded him. The crimes for which Khaled al-Asaad paid with his life were listed on a placard that the group bound to his bloodied body, which they hung by the wrists from a traffic light, his severed head on the ground beneath his feet. He had attended “infidel conferences” and served for years as the “director of idolatry” in Palmyra, the Guardian newspaper reported. Asaad, who had served for 40 years as director of antiquities for his native Palmyra, was also murdered because he refused to tell his captors where Palmyra’s centuries-old treasures were hidden, according to the Guardian and other newspapers.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palmyra “contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centers,” UNESCO writes on its website. “From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.” Palmyra was — and still is to many — one of the world’s most cherished heritage sites, in spite of two occupations by the Islamic State, during which numerous structures and artifacts were destroyed for propaganda, while others were looted for profit.
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