Syrian scholar’s murder ‘a horror’

Italy’s Culture Minister, Dario Franceschini, has expressed his 'horror' over the brutal murder of a Syrian antiquities scholar in Palmyra by the Isis militant group.

Syrian scholar's murder 'a horror'
A general view taken on May 18th shows the castle of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Photo: STR/AFP

Isis beheaded Khaled Al-Asaad in a public square in Palmyra in front of dozens of onlookers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on its website on Tuesday.

The 82-year-old expert was the former director of the city’s world-famous archaeological site and his body was hung from a pillar after he was decapitated.

“The beheading of Khaled Al-Asaad is a gesture that provokes horror,” Franceschini said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“The barbaric violence towards a man who dedicated his life to the cultural heritage of his own country is the very rejection of civilization.”

“This horrible act cannot pass without a response. The Declaration of Milan endorsed at Expo by nearly 90 countries is the first step, now we need a major commitment from the international community to defend culture and people in areas of crisis.”

The news of the archaeologist’s death was initially given by Syrian Antiquities and Museums Director, Maamoun Abdulkarim, to Syria’s state-run news agency, Sana.

Al-Asaad is reported to have been arrested a month ago and interrogated by members of Isis seeking information on where Roman artefacts may have been hidden before Isis occupied the ancient city in May. 

He had been director of the Palmyra archaeological site for 40 years until his retirement in 2003. Sana reports that he had continued to work as an expert after his retirement for the Antiquities and Museums Department.

He had also worked with US, French, German and Swiss archaeological missions on excavations and research in Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old ruins, which is a Unesco World Heritage site that includes Roman tombs and the Temple. 


 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.