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A protector of Syria’s ancient past executed by Islamic State militants

For world-renowned scholar Khaled al-Assad, the ancient site of Palmyra was his home and his life. Then the Islamic State came for him, wanting to know where valuable artifacts from the site had been hidden. The 81-year-old, who didn’t give up the secret, was beheaded and his body left hanging. Alex Thomson of Independent Television News reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The world learned of another brutal Islamic State killing in Syria, this time, the victim an archaeologist who reportedly refused to give up his country's famed artifacts.

    Alex Thomson of Independent Television News has this report.

  • A warning:

    Some of the images may be disturbing.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    You cannot speak of Palmyra, they say, without speaking of Khaled Asaad, the father of this place who for 50 years researched and welcomed the people of the world, every creed and color, to what was for them a World Heritage Site.

    For Khaled Asaad, it was his home, his life, his trademark spectacles still peering into and unearthing Palmyra's mysteries in his 82nd year.

  • ALAA EBRAHIM, Journalist:

    He was very passionate about Palmyra as a city and as an archaeological site. And I urged him to leave actually towards — when ISIL took control of the city, and he refused.

  • ALEX THOMSON:

    And that is the world-renowned scholar, the 82- year-old man whose beheaded body was left hanging from a lamppost. The placard accuses him of supporting idolatry and the Syrian government.

    I.S. fighters came for him a month ago along with his son. He was tortured. They wanted to know where the artifacts from the site had been hidden. I.S. sells them on to fund its war. Khaled Asaad apparently told them nothing.

    In a statement given to Channel 4 News, I.S. said: "Khaled Asaad was a member of the infidel Baath Party with ties to Christian scholars and Shiites. He also promoted the worship of statues. After he was arrested we offered him the chance to repent and pledge allegiance to the caliphate, but he refused."

    I.S. took Palmyra in May. Locals remained and looked on as they took over, but the U.N. says around 70,000 others have fled. By June, I.S. had vowed not to destroy the vast Roman ruins. Instead, they set about detonating pre-Roman sites. A month later, in July, they were using the Roman Amphitheater, not wrecking it, using it for mass public executions.

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