Islamic State member gets life sentence for beheadings

World

FILE – In this March 30, 2019, file photo, Alexanda Amon Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh, who were allegedly among four British jihadis who made up a brutal Islamic State cell dubbed “The Beatles,” speak during an interview with The Associated Press at a security center in Kobani, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

ALEXANDRIA, Va.(Reuters) — A member of an Islamic State cell found guilty in April for his role in a hostage-taking plot that led to the beheadings of American journalists and aid workers was sentenced to life in prison by a U.S. federal court on Friday.

U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, during a hearing in a federal courtroom in Alexandria.

Four months ago, a jury found the former British citizen guilty of charges that included lethal hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit murder.

After a six-week trial in April and hours of deliberation, the jury concluded that Elsheikh was part of an Islamic State cell, nicknamed “The Beatles” for their English accents, that beheaded American hostages in Iraq and Syria.

Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan and raised in London, was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Foley and Sotloff, both journalists, and Kassig, an aid worker, were killed in videotaped beheadings. Mueller was raped repeatedly by the group’s leader at the time, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, before her death in Syria, U.S. officials have said.

The deaths of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were confirmed in 2014, while Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.

The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but U.S. prosecutors have previously advised British officials that they will not seek the death penalty.

Another member of the cell, Alexanda Kotey, was handed a lifetime prison sentence by a U.S. judge earlier this year. Kotey was held in Iraq by the U.S. military before being flown to the United States to face trial. He pleaded guilty last September to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Mueller and Kassig. 

A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a U.S.-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.

Some former hostages, released by the cell after protracted negotiations, testified during trials about the torture they endured. Family members of the deceased victims also testified.

At the peak of its power from 2014-2017, Islamic State ruled over millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.

Its leader, al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014, before he was killed in a raid by U.S. special forces in Syria in 2019 as the group’s rule collapsed.

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