A member of a group of ISIL (ISIS) fighters who beheaded American hostages in Iraq and Syria, and were nicknamed “The Beatles” owing to their British accents, has been found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and lethal hostage-taking.
Former British citizen El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, was found guilty on Thursday on all counts following a trial in the United States.
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The charges carry a potential death sentence, but US prosecutors have advised United Kingdom officials that they will not seek the death penalty.
Elsheikh stood motionless and gave no visible reaction as the verdict was read.
He now faces up to a life sentence in prison.
Elsheikh belonged to a four-member ISIL cell that garnered international attention after releasing videos of the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig, among other victims.
In convicting Elsheikh, the jury concluded that he was one of the notorious “Beatles”, who were known for their cruelty — torturing and beating prisoners, forcing them to fight each other until they collapsed and even making them sing cruel song parodies.
Surviving hostages testified that the Beatles delighted themselves by rewriting “Hotel California” as “Hotel Osama” and making them sing the refrain “You will never leave”.
The guilty finding came though none of the surviving hostages could identify Elsheikh as one of their captors. Although the Beatles had distinctive accents, they always took great care to hide their faces behind masks and ordered hostages to avoid eye contact or risk a beating.
Surviving hostages, all of whom were European — the American and British hostages were all killed — testified that they dreaded the Beatles’ appearance at the various prisons to which they were constantly shuttled and relocated.
Surviving witness Federico Motka recounted a time in the summer of 2013 when he and cellmate David Haines were put in a room with American hostage James Foley and British hostage John Cantlie for what they called a “Royal Rumble”. The losers were told they would be waterboarded. Weak from hunger, two of the four passed out during the hour-long battle.
Defence lawyers acknowledged that Elsheikh joined the ISIL group but said prosecutors failed to prove he was a Beatle.
They cited a lack of clarity about which Beatle was which, and in the trial’s opening statement there was confusion as to whether there were three or four Beatles.
Prosecutors said there were three — Elsheikh and his friends Alexanda Kotey and Mohammed Emwazi, who all knew each other in England before joining ISIL.
Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, was killed in a drone strike. Kotey and Elsheikh were captured together in 2018 and brought to Virginia in 2020 to face trial after the US promised not to seek the death penalty.
Elsheikh eventually confessed his role in the hostage-taking scheme to interrogators as well as media interviewers, acknowledging that he helped collect email addresses and provided proof of life to the hostages’ families as part of ransom negotiations.
Kotey pleaded guilty last year in a plea bargain that calls for a life sentence but leaves open the possibility that he could serve out his sentence in the UK after 15 years in the US.