British ‘Beatle’ terrorist given life sentence over deaths of Western hostages

·4 min read

A member of the so-called Islamic State terror cell known as The Beatles has been jailed for life after being convicted for his role in the murder of American hostages in Syria.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, who grew up in London, showed no emotion as judge Thomas Selby Ellis delivered his verdict at Alexandria District Court, Virginia, while members of his victims’ families watched on.

Elsheikh was given a life sentence for each of the eight counts he was convicted of in April, which are due to run concurrently.

The counts related to his role in a hostage-taking scheme which involved torturing, beating and executing prisoners.

Raj Parekh, representing the families, said Elsheikh – known to prosecutors as “Ringo” – remained “defiantly remorseless and unrepentant”.

He said the jihadist had made no effort to meet victims’ families, like his co-defendant Alexanda Kotey.

Addressing Elsheikh, judge Ellis said: “The behaviour of this defendant and his co-defendant can only be described as horrific, barbaric, brutal and callous.

“This is a significant episode in the history of our country and our justice system.”

Judge Ellis said Elsheikh had not suffered mistreatment while growing up in the UK.

“He had a decent childhood not marked with brutality,” he said.

The court heard statements from some of the victims’ loved ones, including those of US journalist James Foley.

His mother, Diane Foley, said it was the eight-year anniversary of her son’s death.

“This trial has revealed the horrific human rights crimes you committed while part of Isis,” she told Elsheikh.

“Your hatred overtook your humanity.”

Becoming audibly emotional, Ms Foley continued: “Knowing Jim, my suffering and that of our family would have given Jim the deepest pain.

“(But) Jim would say, ‘Elsheikh, you did not kill me. I am alive in my family and friends and their friends.

“I live on in those who survived your inhumanity. I am alive in all those who aspire to moral courage.

British IS terror suspects moved to US custody
ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo (left) speaking to El Shafee Elsheikh (right) (ITV News/PA)

“In many ways I am more alive than I have ever been’.”

Addressing Elsheikh again, she added: “I pity you for choosing hatred and for succumbing to a false theology.”

Elsheikh sat wearing a green prison jumpsuit with white trainers and a black face-covering, and wore glasses.

At times he appeared to turn his head in the direction of those reading out their statements.

Judge Ellis also committed previous victim impact statements, heard in the sentencing of Kotey, to the record.

Elsheikh was allowed the opportunity to speak before receiving his sentence, which he declined.

Ms Foley was later joined outside court by Carl and Marsha Mueller, the parents of US humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller.

Ms Foley said the sentence was a “hollow victory” and called on the US government to do more to free American hostages abroad.

“As grateful as I am for this sentence, it is a hollow victory,” she said.

“Our country has lost four of its very best citizens, we families lost our loved ones forever and now Elsheikh and Kotey have lost their freedom, country and families. It’s a tragic cycle of violence and heartbreak for all involved.”

Mr Mueller said the sentence was “just one more step in the process”.

“Marsha and I continue to search for Kayla. We continue to search for the truth about what happened to her because we don’t know for sure,” he said.

“We want to bring her home. We want to put her on American soil where she belongs.

“This anniversary of Jim’s brutal beheading is the solemn and tragic marker that no family should have to endure.”

Elsheikh was one of a gang of four Isis militants branded The Beatles due to their British accents.

The cell was said to be made up of ringleader Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John; Aine Davis; Alexanda Kotey and Elsheikh.

Elsheikh was captured alongside Kotey in Syria in 2018 by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape to Turkey.

Last year, Kotey pleaded guilty to eight counts relating to his involvement, while Davis was jailed in Turkey before being deported to the UK last week and Emwazi was killed in a drone strike.

Kotey was given the same sentence of eight concurrent life sentences, also by judge Ellis, at the same court in April.