El Shafee Elsheikh, British ISIS member, sentenced for deadly kidnapping plot

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Alexandria, Virginia — El Shafee Elsheikh, one of the three British men accused of operating a brutal ISIS hostage-taking scheme, was sentenced Friday to eight life sentences after he was convicted in April for his role in the plot which led to the deaths of four Americans. 

The eight life sentences, one for each count, are to be served concurrently. There is no parole in the federal system. Elsheikh, the highest ranking ISIS fighter to face a U.S. jury trial, plans to appeal; his lawyer says it will likely be on grounds of ineffective counsel. 

Elsheikh was found guilty on eight charges, including four counts of hostage taking resulting in death, murder conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. 

Collectively known as the “Beatles” for their British accents, Elsheikh and his co-conspirators Mohammed Emwazi and Alexanda Kotey worked together to kidnap and abuse more than two dozen Western hostages, according to prosecutors. He was convicted for participating in the plot that led to the deaths of American hostages James Foley, Peter Kassig, Kayla Mueller and Steven Sotloff.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh, reminded the court of the horrors suffered by the hostages. “To paraphrase a line in Dante’s Inferno, ‘we lack the vocabulary of such pain,'” he said. 

“This systematic brutality included mock executions, waterboarding, sustained beatings, stress positions, orders to fight each other, and other shocking acts of violence while the victims were also starved and forced to live in squalid conditions.  It also included sadistic mind games, such as forcing the hostages to memorize the words to ‘Hotel Osama,'” as former hostages Nicholas Henin, Edouard Elias, and Daniel Rye Ottosen testified during the trial.  

He recounted the “Royal Rumble,” when the Beatles placed the hostages in a cell and forced them to fight each other, threatening the losers with waterboarding. 

“They were malnourished and the Beatles did a sports broadcaster-style play-by-play as they punched each other and passed out,” Parekh said. 

Family members were able to address the court and the defendant during impact statements during the sentencing Friday. 

Diane Foley, who noted that Friday marks the eighth anniversary of the killing of her son, James Foley, by ISIS, directed her remarks to Elsheikh: “El Shafee, you will spend the rest of your life imprisoned for your horrific deeds. But you, too, have lost — your freedom, your citizenship and family contact. We have all lost.”

“Love is so much stronger than hatred,” she told him. “I pity you for choosing hatred and for succumbing to a false theology because Islam is truly a religion of mercy and peace.”

U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Virginia Jessica Aber decried the Beatles crimes “with families not only horrifically losing their loved ones, but losing them on an international stage before a shocked public.”

“Without the families’ commitment,” she went on to say in a tweeted video statement, “this case would never have made it to our courthouse. We would not have the result we have today.”

After the hostages were either released or killed, Elsheikh continued to serve within the hierarchy and upper echelons of ISIS through his capture in January 2018.

Foley, Kassig and Sotloff were all beheaded in a series of gruesome ISIS propaganda videos and images released in 2014. ISIS had claimed Mueller was killed in a 2015 airstrike while she was in Syria, but at trial, prosecutors said ISIS members actually killed her after holding her captive and sexually abusing her for a year and a half.

Elsheikh was charged with participating in the kidnapping and torture that led up to the murders of the hostages. 

FILE: El Shafee Elsheikh, British ISIS suspect. AP

Elsheikh and Kotey were ultimately captured together and held by Syrian Defense Forces before Britain agreed to extradite them to the U.S. for trial. Kotey pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John” and as the figure who carried out many of the hostage executions, was killed in Syria in 2015.

Aine Davis, suspected by some countries of being a fourth member of the ISIS “Beatles,” was charged with terror-related offenses in the UK earlier this month following his deportation from Turkey, according to British authorities. He was convicted in Turkey back in 2017 of being an ISIS member had been serving time in prison there. U.S. prosecutors did not name Davis as a co-conspirator or a “Beatle” during Elsheikh’s trial.

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