Syria antiquities expert 'murdered by Islamic State' in ancient city of Palmyra

Khaled Asaad was murdered and his body hung from a column in the historic ruins of Palmyra, one of sites he helped to restore Credit: Marc DEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Report by ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery

An 82-year-old antiquities scholar has been murdered by Islamic State militants in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, the country's leading history expert has said.

Khaled Asaad was beheaded when he refused to lead IS to treasures in the city, reports suggest.

He worked for more than 50 years as head of antiquities in the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site, which included 2,000-year-old Roman ruins, tombs and the Temple of Bel.

Mr Assad had been executed and and his body hung on a column in the main square of the historic site - one of the ruins he spent most of his life helping to restore, Syria's state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said.

Palmyra was taken over by Islamic State in May Credit: Reuters

UNESCO director general Irina Bokova today said she was "saddened and outraged" to learn of his death.

The so-called Islamic State extremist group took control of Palmyra from government forces in May, prompting fears for the ancient artefacts housed there after militants destroyed thousands of years worth of history in similar attacks in Nimrud and Mosul.

The group claims such artefacts are idolatrous and blasphemous, as they date back to polytheist religions.

Former Syrian antiquities official, Amr al-Azm, who knew Asaad, said that he was an "irreplaceable" scholar who had helped to evacuate the contents of the museum before Islamic State took control.

Islamic State militants released before and after pictures of the shrines blown up in Palmyra

It was reported that the militants detained the scholar around three weeks ago and yesterday he was driven in a van to a main square.

A militant read out five accusations against Asaad, including that he was the "director of idols," represented Syria "at infidel conferences" and visited Shiite powerhouse Iran.

He was then beheaded by another militant.

His son-in-law, Khalil Hariri, who works at Palmyra's archaelogical department, said he was "a treasure for Syria and the world".