A member of a British Islamic State terrorist group dubbed ‘The Beatles’ by their hostages was sentenced in US federal court on Friday to 8 life sentences for the kidnapping and murder of freelance journalist James Foley, as well as for participating in the detention and murder of three other Americans.
The sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, comes on the eighth anniversary of Foley’s murder which was broadcast across the world in a chilling video of a beheading by ISIS. Elsheikh was also convicted and sentenced for the kidnapping and murder of journalist Steven Sotloff, human rights activist Kayla Mueller and aid worker Peter Kassig.
Elsheikj, who was captured in Syria in 2018 alongside fellow ‘Beatle’ Alexanda Kotey, was described by prosecutors during his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia as the member the most notorious and senior member of the Islamic State to be tried. in the United States The quartet had taken 26 Westerners hostage and murdered four Americans and several British and Japanese nationals in Syria.
Kotey was sentenced to life in prison in April.
Judge TS Ellis on Friday called the crimes horrific, noting Elsheikh’s involvement in Mueller’s sexual abuse, his decision to provide false testimony to law enforcement and his role as the leader of the group.
Due to a prior agreement with the UK, neither Elsheikh nor Kotey received the death penalty. Another member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a drone strike in Syria in 2016. A fourth member, Aine Lesley Davis, was arrested in Turkey and extradited earlier this year to the UK to do facing terrorism charges.
Following the conviction, Elsheikh immediately appealed to the court, citing ineffective counsel. Ellis rebutted the defense, “I think you were diligent.”
Diane Foley, James Foley’s mother, spoke directly to Elsheikh during her testimony on Friday, saying, “Love is so much stronger than hate. I pity you Elsheikh.”
She told reporters on Friday that more than 67 American nationals are currently being detained and held hostage overseas.
Foley said in an appeal to President Joe Biden, “I urgently call on our President Biden to employ our most astute negotiations to bring these innocent Americans home quickly, lest they die in captivity like the made our sons and our daughter”.
After his son’s death, Foley founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which defends Americans held hostage overseas and promotes the safety of journalists worldwide.
She added, “Let this conviction send a clear message to all who have dared to kidnap, torture or kill an American citizen abroad. That American justice will find you wherever you are and that our government will hold you accountable for your crimes against our citizens.
Marsha and Carl Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller, told reporters on Friday that they had not given up on the search for their daughter’s remains. The couple are working with private entities to try to find Kayla and find out exactly what happened to their daughter. They told reporters they met with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who told them, “We’re not going to stop until we find Kayla.”
The 26-year-old was on a humanitarian mission in Turkey in August 2013 when ISIS kidnapped her after crossing the Syrian border to a hospital. In February 2015, US officials confirmed that she died while in ISIS custody.
Elsheikh declined to speak during Friday’s sentencing. Marsha Mueller told reporters, “I was hoping he would be, but I wasn’t shocked that he appealed.”
Carl Mueller said of Elsheikh, “He’s obviously cold and remorseless throughout the trial and I still think he thinks he did the right thing.”
Both families said they met Kotey. Marsha Mueller told reporters that Kotey “expressed remorse” and that she was grateful.
Foley stressed the need for the government to act quickly in cases where Americans are detained, to avoid complicating the repatriation process.
Carl Mueller had harsh words for the Obama administration, which he said had “every chance of bringing [Kayla] home” during the 18 months she was reportedly held captive.
“They have definitely learned their lesson and our children have paid the price and I hope that in the future our government will do as so many others have done and bring their people home. Don’t leave them in there for 18 months.”