IS ‘Beatle’ gets life for US deaths

British citizen El Shafee Elsheikh was sentenced to life in prison for his role in an Islamic State plan that took about two dozen Westerners hostage a decade ago.

Elsheikh’s hostages gave him a somewhat bizarre nickname – he was nicknamed a “Beatle” along with other kidnappers with an English accent – but the nickname belied the wickedness of his conduct.

“This accusation exposed the ferocious and sadistic Beatles of ISIS,” said US First Assistant Attorney Raj Parekh, noting that Elsheikh and the other Beatles always wore masks when appearing in front of their hostages.

He is the best-known and highest-ranking member of the Islamic State group ever to have been convicted by a United States court, prosecutors said Friday during his sentencing hearing at the United States District Court in Alexandria. Life in prison was a foregone conclusion after a jury convicted him of hostage-taking resulting in death and other crimes earlier this year.

The convictions revolved around the deaths of four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. All but Mueller were executed in videotaped beheadings broadcast online. Mueller was forced into slavery and raped several times by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before being killed.

They were among the 26 hostages taken prisoner between 2012 and 2015, when the Islamic State group controlled large areas of Iraq and Syria.

The sentences included mandatory life imprisonment. The United States decided not to pursue the death sentence as part of an agreement that ensured the extradition of Elsheikh and his friend Alexanda Kotey, who has already been sentenced to life in prison.

Parekh said it was difficult to convey the brutality of Elsheikh’s actions. “We lack the vocabulary of such pain,” she said, paraphrasing Dante’s Inferno.

However, the victims of Elsheikh and the Beatles testified at the hearing on Friday and gave a voice to what they experienced. Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottosen, released after paying a ransom, said the worst moments were the moments of silence during and after his captivity, when he was alone with his thoughts of him.

He said that when Elsheikh and the Beatles beat him, it was almost a relief.

“Now I knew I could only focus on my pain, which is a lot easier than being alone with your thoughts,” he said.

Ottosen was particularly close to Foley and memorized a farewell letter that Foley wrote to his family so that he could dictate it to Foley’s parents when he was released.

Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, said holding Elsheikh accountable for the trial sends a message of deterrence to other would-be hostage-takers.

“Hate has really overwhelmed your humanity,” he told Elsheikh on Friday, which was the eighth anniversary of James Foley’s beheading.

At the trial, the surviving hostages testified that they feared the appearance of the Beatles in the various prisons to which they were constantly being moved and relocated. Elsheikh and the other Beatles played a key role in the hostage negotiations, convincing the hostages to email their families with requests for payment.

They also regularly beat and tortured hostages, forcing them to fight each other to the point of passing out, threatening them with waterboarding, and forcing them to see pictures of the slain hostages.

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