A member of an Islamic State cell involved 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 (Aug. 19).
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, during a hearing in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, in a ruling the families and friends of his victims said provided “a bit of justice.”
Four months ago a jury found the former British citizen guilty of charges that included lethal hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit murder. He was found guilty in April.
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.
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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; Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.
Speaking with reporters following the sentencing, Foley’s mother, Diane, said: “But as grateful as I am for this sentence, it is a hollow victory. Our country has lost four of its very best citizens. We families lost our loved ones forever. And now El Sheikh and Cody have lost their freedom, country and families. It’s a tragic cycle of violence and heartbreak for all involved.”
The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but U.S. prosecutors had previously advised British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors argued that a life sentence was needed to prevent Elsheikh from causing future harm and to set a precedent that such crimes will get strict punishment.
Another cell member, Alexanda Kotey, was sentenced to life in prison 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, Kassig and Mueller.
A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a U.S.-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.
(Production: Greg Savoy, Kristin Neubauer)