British IS Beatle El Shafee Elsheikh sentenced to life in US prison over kidnappings

·4 min read
El Shafee Elsheikh, an alleged Islamic State militant, sentenced to life
El Shafee Elsheikh, an alleged Islamic State militant, sentenced to life

A member of the Islamic State execution squad known as the "Beatles” has been jailed for life in the United States and will die behind bars.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, a former British citizen from Shepherd's Bush in London, was given eight life sentences and told by a judge that he will never be released.

Elsheikh had been found guilty in April of eight charges, including hostage taking resulting in death, and conspiracy to commit murder.

At his sentencing in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, the terrorist wore a green prison jumpsuit, glasses and a black Covid mask.

He showed no emotion as Judge TS Ellis III told him his actions had been "horrific, barbaric, brutal and callous."

British Islamic State (IS) group fighters El Shafee Elsheikh (L) and Alexanda Amon Kotey - Handout
British Islamic State (IS) group fighters El Shafee Elsheikh (L) and Alexanda Amon Kotey - Handout

The judge said: "There is no parole in the federal system. I don't expect he will be released on supervision. This is a significant episode in the history of our country and our justice system."

He added: "There is nothing in his background to suggest he was brutalised, emotionally or physically by the British system, or by Britain. He wasn't. He had a pretty decent childhood." Elsheikh was stripped of his British citizenship in 2018.

He is expected to serve at least the first part of his sentence in a "supermax" prison in Colorado where Abu Hamza, the hook-handed former imam of Finsbury Park mosque, is already being held.

He will be confined to a 75 sq ft cell 23 hours a day and be shackled when he goes to the shower area.

The charges against him related to the murders of four Americans - the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The first three were executed in videotaped beheadings that were circulated online.

Jurors sat through fortnight of graphic testimony

During a harrowing two-week trial jurors were played recordings of hostages pleading for their lives, and shown videos of their executions.

The Islamic State cell also beheaded other westerners, including British volunteers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Surviving hostages told the court how their captors, nicknamed the "Beatles" because of their British accents, delighted in torturing them, including waterboarding and making them fight each other.

At the sentencing hearing Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, gave an impact statement.

She broke down in tears as she noted that it was the eighth anniversary of her son's death.

Addressing Elsheikh directly, she said: "Evil totally overtook your humanity. James would want you to know that you did not win. James Wright Foley lives on."

Prosecutors said Elsheikh was a "cold and calculating terrorist" who had preyed on "kind and altruistic souls".

 Carl and Marsha Mueller, parents of Kayla Mueller who was killed by Islamic State militants, arrive to the Federal Courthouse for the sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh - Reuters
Carl and Marsha Mueller, parents of Kayla Mueller who was killed by Islamic State militants, arrive to the Federal Courthouse for the sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh - Reuters

They called his crimes "diabolical" and "sadistic," and said he had shown no remorse.

He was the "most notorious ISIS member to face a jury trial in the United States," they said.

Defence lawyers asked the judge to recommend Elsheikh be sent to a jail with less harsh conditions, arguing he had been a "model prisoner" while awaiting trial, but the judge declined to do so.

Outside court, Diane Foley called for the US to change its policy on hostage negotiation. She said: "We were repeatedly told to stay quiet, don't talk to anyone. I pray we are learning."

She also told reporters: "Let this sentencing make clear to all who dare to kidnap, torture or kill any American citizen abroad that U.S. justice will find you wherever you are, and that our government will hold you accountable for your crimes against our citizens."

Mike Haines, the brother of murdered aid worker Scot David Haines,  paid tribute to him as "a force for good”, who “sought to bring relief to the many refugees fleeing from the ravages of war".

Elsheikh and another "Beatle," Alexanda Kotey were captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2018, then held in Iraq before being extradited to the US two years later.

In April, Kotey, 38, originally from Paddington, London, was jailed for life in the same courtroom in Virginia after pleading guilty.

Prosecutors contended that there were three main members of the "Beatles" terror cell -  Elsheikh, Kotey, and Mohammed Emwazi, who became known as "Jihadi John" and was later killed in a US drone strike.