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Islamic State 'Beatle' faces life sentence for US hostage deaths

The Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse where alleged Islamic State "Beatle" El Shafee Elsheikh is on trial
— Alexandria (United States) (AFP)

A member of the notorious Islamic State kidnap-and-murder cell known as the "Beatles," is to be sentenced in a US court on Friday for the deaths of four American hostages in Syria.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison after being convicted in Alexandria, Virginia, in April of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a terrorist organization.

The grueling two-week trial of the former British national, which featured emotional testimony from former hostages and parents of the victims, was the most significant prosecution of an IS militant in the United States.

The 12-person federal jury deliberated for less than six hours over two days before finding Elsheikh guilty for his role in the deaths of four Americans -- journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

Elsheikh and another former "Beatle," Alexanda Amon Kotey, 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.

A handout photo provided by the Syrian Democratic Forces of El Shafee Elsheikh after his capture

Kotey, 38, pleaded guilty in September 2021 and was sentenced to life in prison in April by US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, who will also deliver the sentence on Friday against Elsheikh.

Another alleged "Beatle," Aine Davis, 38, was deported to Britain last week from Turkey and was remanded in custody on terrorism charges.

The fourth "Beatle," executioner Mohammed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.

The hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London, were nicknamed the "Beatles" by their captives because of their distinctive British accents.

Active in Syria from 2012 to 2015, they are accused of abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the United States and other countries.

Ten former European and Syrian hostages testified at Elsheikh's trial accusing the "Beatles" of months of brutal treatment including beatings, electric shocks, waterboarding and mock executions.

Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were beheaded by Emwazi, and videos of their deaths were released by IS for propaganda purposes.

Mueller was initially held by the "Beatles" but was later turned over to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who reportedly raped her repeatedly.

IS announced Mueller's death in February 2015. The group said she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, a claim disputed by US authorities.

Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, speaks to reporters

Baghdadi died during a US special forces raid in 2019.

Ahead of Elsheikh's sentencing, British police revealed details on Wednesday of the years-long effort to identify the hostage-takers and bring them to justice.

Richard Smith, the head of London police's counter-terrorism unit, compared it to "putting together very small pieces of a jigsaw" and following a "trail of breadcrumbs."

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