Khaled Asaad, a quiet bespectacled man who for 40 years was the caretaker of the 2000-year-old city of Palmyra in Syria, often joked that he was “born in the shadows of the Temple of Bel” and that was what compelled him to dedicate a lifetime to its preservation.
The director of Palmyra’s antiquities and museums between 1963 and 2003, he had an almost neurotic-like obsession with the ancient trading hub and desert oasis that stood on the Silk Road. No one could do anything without going through him; one colleague nicknamed him “Mr Palmyra”.
It was this bond with the Unesco world heritage site that made him an enemy of Islamic State (Isis). As fanatics stormed the city in May, Asaad refused to abandon his work. When he allegedly declined to reveal hidden stores of treasures, he was murdered for being a “director of idolatry” and a spy.
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