‘ISIS Beatles’ member gets life in prison for hostage deaths: NPR


ALEXANDRIA, Va. — British national El Shafee Elsheikh was sentenced to life in prison on Friday for his role in an Islamic State scheme that took about two dozen Westerners hostage a decade ago.

El Shafee Elsheikh was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the deaths of four American hostages captured by Islamic State.

Alexandria Sheriff’s Office via AP, file


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'ISIS Beatles' member gets life in prison for hostage deaths: NPR

El Shafee Elsheikh was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the deaths of four American hostages captured by Islamic State.

Alexandria Sheriff’s Office via AP, file

Elsheikh’s hostages gave him a somewhat fanciful nickname—he was nicknamed a “Beatle” along with other English-accented captors—but the nickname belied the wickedness of his conduct.

“This prosecution has exposed the vicious and sadistic Beatles of ISIS,” said US Attorney’s First Assistant Raj Parekh, noting that Elsheikh and the other Beatles always wore masks when they appeared in front of their hostages.

He is the most notorious and senior member of the Islamic State group to ever be convicted in a US court, prosecutors said Friday during his sentencing hearing in US District Court in Alexandria. The life sentence was up for grabs after a jury found him guilty of taking hostages resulting in death and other crimes earlier this year.

The convictions revolved around the deaths of four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. All but Mueller were executed in videotaped beheadings released online. Mueller was enslaved and repeatedly raped by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before being killed.

They were among 26 hostages captured between 2012 and 2015, when the Islamic State group controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The convictions carried a mandatory life sentence. The United States agreed not to pursue the death sentence as part of a deal guaranteeing the extradition of Elsheikh and his friend, Alexanda Kotey, who has already been sentenced to life.

Parekh said it was difficult to convey the brutality of Elsheikh’s actions. “We don’t have the vocabulary for such pain,” he said, paraphrasing Dante’s Inferno.

Yet the victims of Elsheikh and The Beatles testified at Friday’s hearing and expressed what they went through. Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottosen, who was released after paying a ransom, said the worst moments were the moments of silence during and after captivity when he was alone with his thoughts.

He said when Elsheikh and the Beatles beat him, it was almost a relief.

“Now I knew I could only focus on my pain, which is much easier than being alone with your thoughts,” he said.

Ottosen was particularly close to Foley and memorized a farewell letter Foley wrote to his family so he could dictate it to Foley’s parents when he was released.

'ISIS Beatles' member gets life in prison for hostage deaths: NPR

Diane Foley, mother of James Foley, speaks to members of the media following the sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh at the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday.

Andrew Harnik/AP


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'ISIS Beatles' member gets life in prison for hostage deaths: NPR

Diane Foley, mother of James Foley, speaks to members of the media following the sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh at the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, said holding Elsheikh accountable at trial sends a deterrent message to other potential hostage takers.

“Hate has really overwhelmed your humanity,” she told Elsheikh on Friday, on the eighth anniversary of James Foley’s beheading.

At trial, the surviving hostages testified that they dreaded the appearance of the Beatles in the various prisons to which they were constantly transferred and transferred. Elsheikh and the other Beatles played a key role in the hostage negotiations, causing the hostages to email their families with demands for payment.

They also regularly beat and tortured the hostages, forcing them to fight to the point of fainting, threatening them with waterboarding, and forcing them to see footage of slain hostages.

Elsheikh did not speak at Friday’s hearing. His attorney, Zachary Deubler, said Elsheikh would appeal his conviction. Elsheikh’s lawyers had argued that his confession should have been ruled inadmissible due to alleged ill-treatment after his capture by the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces in 2018.

In Friday’s hearing, Deubler limited his arguments to a request that Elsheikh not be sent to the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where he would face solitary confinement for the rest of his term. life. Deubler said a Florence designation is almost a certainty unless the judge recommends otherwise.

Judge TS Ellis III declined to make recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons.

“The behavior of this defendant and his co-defendant can only be described as horrible, barbaric, brutal, callous and, of course, criminal,” Ellis said.


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