U.S. federal court sentences Islamic State cell member El Shafee Elsheikh to life imprisonment for beheadings

Members of the media gather outside of the Federal Courthouse as they wait for statements following the sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh, a former British citizen and IS fighter, in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.

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, Virginia.

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.

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The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but U.S. prosecutors had previously advised British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.

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.

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