On Thursday, El Shafee Elsheikh, accused of being one of the infamous ISIS “Beatles,” was found guilty for his role in the murder of four American hostages, three people from Great Britain and two Japanese citizens. The jury took less than five hours to reach a verdict after the two-week trial.
Relatives of the victims, including Kayla Mueller’s parents, Peter Kassig’s family, and the daughter of British aid worker David Haines, wept as the verdict was read. Elsheikh will be sentenced on April 29.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Raj Parekh pointed out that Elsheikh had given media interviews in 2019 in which he revealed “granular detail” about the fate of the hostages.
Elsheikh, a former British national, is accused of being a member of an ISIS kidnap-and-murder cell group called the “Beatles” because of their British accents. “The ‘Beatles’ allegedly tortured and killed their victims, including by beheading, and IS released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes,” France 24 noted, adding:
Elsheikh and another former British national, Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured in January 2018 by Kurdish forces in Syria while attempting to flee to Turkey.
They were turned over to US forces in Iraq and flown to Virginia in October 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
In court, Parekh concluded, “They were humanitarians and journalists who came to promote peace and enlightenment in a war-torn country and to alleviate suffering among those most in need. … The defendant responded with systematic, premeditated and relentless abuse and torture. … His crimes left a legacy of brutal killings and shattered families, and we respectfully request you return a verdict of guilty for each and every count,” The Daily Mail reported.
According to a French journalist captured and held hostage by ISIS in 2013, his captors taunted their hostages by forcing them to sing a parody of the Eagles song “Hotel California” that they called “Hotel Osama,” with lyrics that said if they tried to escape, “If you try, you’ll die Mr Bigley style,” referencing Kenneth Bigley, beheaded in 2004 by Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, head of the al-Qaeda terror network in Iraq.
Speaking at the trial of Elsheikh, accused of the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig, French journalist Nicolas Henin said, “It was terrifying for us, a joke for them.”
He said of British aid worker David Haines, who was beheaded in early September 2014 by ISIS, and Italian relief worker Federico Motka. who testified at the trial that during his 14 months as a hostage he was repeatedly beaten and held in isolation in “the box,” and that “They were terrified. Shaking.”
On Monday, Michael Foley, the brother of murdered journalist James Foley — who was beheaded by Islamic State executioner “Jihadi John,” one of the four “Beatles,” in 2014 — told the court at Elsheikh’s trial that he had watched the footage of his brother’s beheading “multiple times,” according to The New York Post. Michael Foley told the court that the image “is burned into my brain.”
In September 2014 the BBC reported, “In a video published on 2 September, which has been confirmed as authentic by the US authorities, Mr. Sotloff was shown dressed in an orange smock, his hands tied behind his back, kneeling in front of a masked figure holding a knife. He was then beheaded.”
“Mueller was reportedly handed over to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who allegedly raped her repeatedly before killing her,” The Daily Mail noted.
James Foley’s mother Diane told the court she hoped at first that reports her son had been executed were “some cruel joke,” adding, “I didn’t want to believe it. It just seemed too horrific.” She said of Elsheikh, “This has been a long time coming. … Accountability is essential if we’re ever going to stop hostage-taking.”