Islamic State ‘Beatle’ El Shafee Elsheikh jailed for life for role in hostage murder plot

·6 min read
 (Syrian Democratic Forces/AFP via)
(Syrian Democratic Forces/AFP via)

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.

Addressing the jihadist, 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.”

Elsheikh sat in the courtroom wearing a green, prison-issue 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 victim impact statements.

Judge Thomas Selby Ellis is due to allow the jihadist the opportunity to speak before passing sentence on him.

Elsheikh, known as Ringo, 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.

Kotey was handed a life sentence by judge Selby at the same court in April.

Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, was killed in a drone strike.

Diane Foley, mother of killed journalist James Foley, speaks to the media following a hearing at the US Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia (Cliff Owen) (AP)
Diane Foley, mother of killed journalist James Foley, speaks to the media following a hearing at the US Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia (Cliff Owen) (AP)

Diane Foley, mother of US journalist James Foley, who was held hostage by the group, told Elsheikh in court his “hatred overtook your humanity”.

“This trial has revealed the horrific human rights crimes you committed while part of Isis,” she said, addressing him directly in her victim impact statement.

“Your hatred overtook your humanity.

“You have been held accountable for your depravity this (and) … you will spend the rest of your life in prison, but you too have lost.

“You have lost your citizenship, your country … your family.”

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.

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

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

“I pray that your time in prison gives you time to reflect … and even make amends.

“The God I believe in will forgive you.”

Elsheikh chose not to speak before judge Ellis handed him his life sentences.

However, he has already indicated that he plans to appeal the sentence and will be replacing his legal team.

Elsheikh was in April convicted of eight counts relating to four American hostages, James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. The three American men were executed in beheadings posted online. Ms Mueller was enslaved and raped multiple times by Islamic state leader Bakr al-Baghdadi before she was killed.

Carl Mueller, father of murdered Kayla, said: “I think, after the end of this long, arduous trial, we just need to thank the prosecution team for all the work they did, the time they put in to accomplish this.

“This is 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.

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

Following the sentencing of Elsheikh, The Metropolitan Police disclosed how officers from its Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) helped connect the dots on the members to secure convictions.

The force said it opened its investigation in 2012 following the kidnappings of two journalists in northern Syria.

Police said their first breakthrough came after a number of hostages reported that one of their captors spoke about being arrested at a counter-demonstration at an English Defence League (EDL) march in London on September 11 2011 where there had been a stabbing.

Armed with this information, investigators discovered footage taken by an officer on the day, showing police speaking to Elsheikh and Kotey – who were among a group of people arrested in connection with the incident.

By 2014, investigators suspected that Emwazi was a masked man seen in a number of IS propaganda videos, which showed him violently killing hostages.

Data from both Elsheikh and Kotey’s phones, which had been seized at the time of the 2011 arrests, was reviewed and showed messages between them and Emwazi.

Emwazi’s phone was seized on a different occasion, and was found to contain Elsheikh’s number, building evidence of a connection between the three men.

In the cases of Elsheikh and Emwazi, voice recordings were also used to build a case that they were part of the “Beatles” group.

A police interview tape of Emwazi dating back to 2009 was compared with the voice of the executioner in the IS videos, and an expert found them to be a match.

Similarly, a police interview with Elsheikh from 2009 was compared with a voice message that police had discovered on his brother’s phone and were also found by an expert to be a match.

Police said this voice message was discovered years after it was sent as a result of officers re-analysing a phone seized from his brother as part of an unrelated firearms investigation.

Analysis of the phone also revealed images of Elsheikh in Syria.

Commander Richard Smith, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command which helped US law enforcers to bring the case, said after the sentencing: “This is one of the most significant international terrorism cases ever brought to trial. These were some of the most barbaric terrorist acts ever seen, carried out with chilling callousness and brutality.

“This is a time to remember all of the victims – those innocent people who were senselessly killed, and also the surviving hostages who experienced unimaginable horrors at the hands of El Shafee Elsheikh and his co-defendant Alexanda Kotey. They have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.

“I hope that those most affected may take some comfort in knowing that these extremely dangerous men have been brought to justice.”