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IS Militants Execute Former Antiquities Chief in Palmyra

FILE - In this picture released May 22, 2015, by the website of Islamic State militants, shows the Islamic State group's flag, top center, raised on the to top of Palmyra castle, in the Syrian town of Palmyra.

Syria's antiquities chief said Islamic State militants have beheaded the former director of antiquities in the ancient city of Palmyra.

Mamoun Abdulkarim said 82-year-old Khaled Asaad was killed on Tuesday, and that his career included working for 50 years in the city that is home to ruins at a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 2,000 years.

Asaad had been detained and interrogated for over a month by the ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants, he told Reuters.

"Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded ...and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the center of a square in Palmyra," Abdulkarim said. "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."

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.

He also worked over the past few decades with U.S., French, German and Swiss archeological missions on excavations and research in Palmyra's famed 2,000-year-old ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including Roman tombs and the Temple of Bel.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported Assad's death, saying he was killed in a public square in Palmyra in front of dozens of people.

The Islamic State group seized Palmyra in May, setting off fears about the fate of its ruins because of the militants' reputation for destroying artifacts they consider idolatrous.

So far they have not carried out the destruction seen in other historic areas, but in June the militants placed mines throughout the UNESCO site. Ahead of their arrival, Abdulkarim said a museum at the site was emptied and the artifacts were safely relocated

Some material for this report came from Reuters.