A member of the notorious Islamic State kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles”, was found guilty of all charges on Thursday for the deaths of four American hostages – two journalists and two aid workers – in Syria.
A jury convicted El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, a former British national, after a two-week trial, the most significant prosecution of an IS member in the United States.
Elsheikh was charged with eight counts of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller – and supporting a terrorist organisation.
“This is a day that we didn’t need bombs or bullets to bring justice,” said Foley’s mother Diane, who fought tirelessly to try to secure her son’s release. “I really feel that justice prevailed.”
Mueller’s father also welcomed the sweeping guilty verdicts delivered after a gruelling trial in US District Court in Alexandria near the capital Washington.
“We all saw the American justice system do what it does best,” said Carl Mueller, whose wife, Marsha, testified about the eventually fruitless negotiations with the hostage-takers, who were demanding five million Euros in exchange for their daughter.
The 12-person jury deliberated for less than six hours over two days before rendering the verdict.
Elsheikh did not display any visible reaction as it was read but several relatives of the slain American hostages who were in the public gallery dabbed at their eyes.
Elsheikh and another former “Beatle,” Alexanda Amon Kotey, 38, were captured by a Kurdish militia in Syria in January 2018 and handed over to US forces in Iraq.
They were flown to the United States in 2020 to face trial. Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and is facing life in prison.
Elsheikh, who was stripped of his citizenship by Britain, also faces a likely life sentence.
“The sentence he’s going to get is probably worse than a death sentence,” Carl Mueller said, adding that he expected him to be incarcerated at the spartan prison known as “Supermax” in Colorado.
The question of identification hung heavy over Elsheikh’s trial because the “Beatles”, always wore masks around hostages and would blindfold them or force them to kneel facing a wall.
Defense attorney Nina Ginsberg argued that while Elsheikh may indeed have been an IS fighter and the “Beatles” were responsible for “brutal” acts, prosecutors had not proved he actually was a “Beatle”.
Besides the deaths of the American hostages, Elsheikh and the other “Beatles” are suspected of involvement in kidnapping in Syria of some 20 other journalists and relief workers from Europe, Russia and Japan. Several of them were killed while others were released for ransoms.
The hostage-takers were dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives because of their British accents. (Source: CNA)