A jihadist who left Britain to join Islamic State (IS) in Syria was fighting for the world’s “suffering Muslims,” his lawyers said in a US court.
- SEE MORE Why are attackers linked to the Islamic State targeting Israel?
- SEE MORE Explained: the relationship between the Taliban and Isis
- SEE MORE Islamic State is looking to Africa to rebuild after defeats in the Middle East
El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, is said to have been part of a group of four militants – nicknamed “TheIS Beatles‘ because of her English accent – the westerns kidnapped and murdered, including helpers and journalists. The former British citizen has denied being part of the notorious jihadist cell.
But prosecutors told the Virginia court that Elsheikh was a killer named Jihadi George who was part of a “brutal hostage plot” in which the “absolutely horrific” kidnappers “seemed to enjoy” the “relentless and unpredictable” torture of prisoners to participate.
Elsheikh was born in Sudan but grew up in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, having moved to the UK with his parents and two brothers in the early 1990s. Accordingly The Telegraphhe supported Queen’s Park Rangers and “dreamed of signing for the football club and playing in the famous blue and white merry-go-round at nearby Loftus Road”.
But after converting to radical Islamism, his ambitions changed drastically. Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli, related it BuzzFeed that her “perfect” son was influenced by the preaching of Hani al-Sibai, an Islamist preacher who called the London bombings a “great victory.”
Elsheikh traveled to Syria in 2012 and “joined al-Qaeda before joining ISIS.” BBC reported. He was arrested by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in January 2018 “when they overran the last parts of IS-controlled territory”.
After being identified by fingerprints, it was him stripped of his British citizenship later in the year.
Elsheikh was arrested along with Alexanda Kotey, nicknamed Jihadi Ringo. After their detention in Syria, the two jihadists were “handed over to US forces in Iraq and flown to Virginia in October 2020 to face charges.” The guard called.
Kotey pleaded guilty in a US court last November to multiple counts related to the killing of four American hostages. He faces a minimum life sentence without parole under an agreement reached by his lawyers, but can be extradited to the UK after 15 years to face other possible charges.
The third so-called IS Beatle, Aine Davis (Jihadi Paul), was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after being convicted of terrorism in Turkey in 2017. Mohammed Emwazi (Jihadi John), died fighting ISIS in 2015.
“Preference for Brutality”
Elsheikh is not part of the “cell” responsible for kidnapping and torturing hostages, but is a low-ranking “foot soldier” for ISIS, his attorney Edward MacMahon told a jury this week at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
In his opening remarks on Wednesday, MacMahon said the surviving hostages had different memories of each of the “Beatles” groups and whether three or four men were involved.
But surviving prisoners claim that Elsheikh was known for “his unusual penchant for brutality, even within a terrorist group known for its ferocity.” Sky news reported.
Prosecutor John Gibbs told the court Elsheikh “played a central role” and that the detainees described “the three British men who were holding them” – allegedly Elsheikh, Kotey and Emwazi – as “absolutely appalling”.
“The abuse was relentless and unpredictable. They seemed to enjoy hitting the hostages,” said Gibbs, who told the court that a European prisoner was hit 25 times in one day after the group found out it was his 25th birthday.
“If a hostage looked at any of the three men, they would be beaten. In fact, they didn’t have to do anything to be beaten,” Gibbs added, outlining the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.
Elsheikh faces charges of fatal hostage-taking and conspiracy to murder faces life imprisonment if convicted. The process is expected to take a month.
The “long-awaited” trial of Elsheikh “promises to draw back the curtain on the inner workings of the most brutal terrorist group in modern history,” it said The Telegraph‘s US correspondent Josie Ensor.
“The seriousness of the allegations is undisputed,” defense attorney MacMahon said in court. “It is disputed whether Elsheikh bears legal responsibility. I maintain that he was not a member of the Beatles and was not involved in their kidnapping and torture schemes.”
Accordingly ITV NewsUS correspondent Emma Murphy, “in interviews in Syria after being dragged off the battlefield by defense forces,” Elsheikh “made no secret of his involvement in moving ISIS detainees from place to place.”
He reportedly presented himself as a “proud combatant who has repeatedly recounted his role in one of the worst episodes of hostage-taking and killing in recent history.”
“There was no overt shame, more overt arrogance,” Murphy added.
The mother of an IS group victim told reporters outside the Virginia courthouse this week that the trial was “a long time coming.”
“It’s been years and it’s very important that anyone involved in hostage-taking is held accountable,” said Diane Foley, whose journalist son James Foley was beheaded in a video shared online by jihadist groups around the world. “It’s very important. And it’s also important that he has a fair trial.”
The James W. Foley Foundation, which advocates for hostages, also welcomed the process. “Too often, kidnappers of US citizens evade arrest and prosecution, and as a result are never brought to justice,” the organization said.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/americas/956285/who-is-el-shafee-elsheikh-alleged-islamic-state-beatle El Shafee Elsheikh: The alleged “IS Beatle” is on trial in the USA