A member of the notorious Islamic State kidnapping 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 life sentence after being convicted in Alexandria, Va., in April of taking hostages, conspiring to murder US citizens and supporting a terrorist organization.
The grueling two-week trial of the former British national, which featured moving testimony from former hostages and relatives of 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 convicting Elsheikh of 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 for trial.
Kotey, 38, pleaded guilty in September 2021 and was sentenced to life in prison in April by US District Court Judge TS Ellis, who will also sentence Elsheikh on Friday.
Another alleged ‘Beatle’, Aine Davis, 38, was deported to Britain last week from Turkey and remanded in custody on charges of terrorism.
The fourth “Beatle”, executioner Mohammed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015.
The hostage takers, who grew up and became 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 kidnapping more than two dozen journalists and aid workers in 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, mock executions.
Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were beheaded by Emwazi, and videos of their deaths were released by ISIS for propaganda purposes.
Mueller was first detained by the “Beatles”, but was later handed over to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who allegedly raped her repeatedly.
ISIS announced Mueller’s death in February 2015. The group said she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, a claim disputed by US authorities.
Baghdadi died in a raid by US special forces in 2019.
Ahead of Elsheikh’s sentencing, British police on Wednesday revealed details of efforts for years to identify the hostage takers and bring them to justice.
Richard Smith, the head of the London police’s counter-terrorism unit, compared it to “putting together very small pieces of a jigsaw puzzle” and following a “trail of breadcrumbs”.