Islamic State militant sentenced to life in US for killing US hostages

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, Aug 19 (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge on Friday sentenced a member of an Islamic State cell known as “The Beatles” to life in prison for his involvement in a plot to take of hostages which led to the murder of Americans. journalists and aid workers in Syria.

Families and friends of the four slain Americans and other hostages previously held by the militant group watched as District Court Judge TS Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, to life without parole, calling his behavior a “horrible, barbaric, brutal and of course criminal.”

In April, a jury found that the former British citizen was part of an Islamic State cell, nicknamed “The Beatles” for their English accents, which beheaded American hostages in areas of the Middle East controlled by the militant group. He was found guilty of four counts of hostage-taking and four counts of conspiracy after a two-week trial.

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Relatives and friends of the victims sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the hearing as tears streamed from their eyes and they consoled each other. Elsheikh was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences.

At the height of its power from 2014 to 2017, the Islamic State ruled over millions and claimed or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.

Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014, before being killed in a raid by US special forces in Syria in 2019 as the regime’s group collapsed.

Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan and grew up in London, was charged with conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

Foley and Sotloff, both journalists, and Kassig, an aid worker, were killed in videotaped beheadings. Mueller was repeatedly raped by al-Baghdadi before her death in Syria, US officials said.

The deaths of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were confirmed in 2014; Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.

Elsheikh appeared in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday wearing a gray jumpsuit, face mask and goggles. The family and friends of his victims were invited to make statements before the judge.

“The hate has completely overtaken your humanity,” Foley’s mother Diane said before bursting into tears. “I pity you. I pray that your time in prison gives you time to reflect.” Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Foley’s beheading.

The head of London Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Richard Smith, said in a statement that the families of the victims “showed remarkable courage and bravery in recounting what happened to investigators and to the court”.

The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was stripped in 2018, carried a death sentence, but US prosecutors previously told British officials they would not seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors argued that a life sentence was necessary to prevent Elsheikh from causing future harm and to set a precedent that such crimes will be punished harshly.

“The Beatles were real psychopaths,” US Attorney’s First Assistant Raj Parekh said in court Friday during the hearing, adding that Elsheikh was the highest-ranking Islamic State member to ever be convicted. by a US court.

Another cell member, Alexanda Kotey, was sentenced to life in prison by a US judge earlier this year. Kotey was detained in Iraq by the US military before being flown to the United States for trial. He pleaded guilty last September to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and Mueller. Read more

A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a US-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.

Some former hostages, released by the cell after long negotiations, testified during the trials of the torture they endured. Family members of those killed also testified.

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh; written by Rami Ayyub Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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