US trial begins of Daesh ‘Beatle’ El Shafee Elsheikh

El Shafee Elsheikh is accused of involvement in the murders of American journalists.


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AFP file
AFP file

Published: Wed 30 Mar 2022, 10:46 AM

The first trial on US soil of an alleged major figure in Daesh group — an accused member of the kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” — will begin in earnest Wednesday near Washington.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, is accused of involvement in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The day after the selection of 18 jurors, including six alternates, prosecutors and Elsheikh’s lawyers will cross swords for the first time in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Elsheikh and another former British national, Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured in January 2018 by Kurdish forces in Syria while attempting to flee to Turkey.

They were turned over to US forces in Iraq and flown to Virginia in October 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and is facing life in prison. Under his plea agreement, Kotey will serve 15 years in jail in the United States and then be extradited to Britain to face further charges.

Elsheikh opted to fight the charges. He faces an unconditional sentence of life imprisonment.

Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member militant cell, dubbed the “Beatles” by their captives due to their British accents, was allegedly involved in the abductions of at least 27 people in Syria from 2012 to 2015.

The hostages, some of whom were released after their governments paid ransoms, were from at least 15 countries, including the United States, Denmark, France, Japan, Norway and Spain.

The “Beatles” allegedly tortured and killed their victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.

Ringleader Mohamed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” was killed by a US drone in Syria in November 2015, while the fourth “Beatle,” Aine Davis, is imprisoned in Turkey after being convicted on terrorism charges.

Kotey, known as “Ringo” by the hostages, and Elsheikh, dubbed “George,” allegedly supervised detention facilities for hostages and coordinated ransom negotiations, according to the US authorities.

The pair were also accused of engaging in a “prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages,” which included waterboarding, electric shocks and mock executions.

Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, a Spanish photographer held captive for six months in 2014, told AFP that “torture and murder were daily occurrences” in an atmosphere of “sadism.”

Several former European hostages are expected to testify at the trial along with a Yazidi woman detained with Mueller, a humanitarian worker who was abducted in Syria in 2013.

Mueller’s parents say she was tortured before being handed over to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who allegedly raped her repeatedly before killing her.

According to the indictment, Elsheikh was born in Sudan and moved to Britain when he was a child.

After becoming radicalized, he went to Syria in 2012 and joined Daesh.

Throughout his trial, four rows of seats will be reserved for former hostages and their relatives.

Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, and Bethany Haines, the daughter of British hostage David Haines, intend to occupy them.

“This has been a long time coming,” Diane Foley told AFP.

“Accountability is essential if we’re ever going to stop hostage-taking,” said Foley.

Britain stripped Kotey and Elsheikh of their UK citizenship but held up their transfer to the United States until the US authorities assured London the death penalty would not be sought for the two men.

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