Syrian authorities believe they have found the remains of a famed archaeologist who was beheaded by Islamic State militants in Palmyra in 2015, reportedly after refusing to divulge the location of the site’s hidden treasures.
One of three bodies recently recovered from an area outside the Palmyra was thought to be that of Khaled al-Asaad, the longtime director of antiquities in the ancient city, state news outlet Sana reported on Sunday.
In August 2015 Asaad was publicly executed in a local square in Palmyra, months after IS militants overran the strategic oasis city in Syria’s eastern desert. The crime made global headlines as the urbane Asaad had served as the custodian of the Unesco world heritage site for over half a century, receiving numerous awards and accolades in Syria and abroad.
The octogenarian antiquities scholar was born in Palmyra and had remained in the city after the IS takeover to attempt to preserve its heritage.
IS militants detained Asaad for over a month before his murder, his family said.
The group was earning millions from looting and smuggling artefacts at the time and Syria’s antiquities minister said they had killed him after trying to extract information about the whereabouts of the city’s hidden treasure.
The fate of Asaad’s own mortal remains has been something of a mystery since then.
Following his death, unverified images circulated online showing a dismembered corpse supposedly belonging to Asaad hanging from a traffic light, with a handwritten sign accusing him of being director of Palmyra’s “idols”.
But other sources later suggested his body was found tied to one of an ancient pillar in the ruins of Palmyra’s central square.
Syrian forces recaptured Palmyra until March 2016 with the help of Russian air strikes. But that December IS fighters managed to recapture the strategic oasis city in a surprise assault and it was not finally liberated until March 2017.
The Sana report did not give further information about the recently recovered bodies but said their identity would be confirmed by DNA analysis.