The British national accused of being a member of the notorious ISIS ‘Beatles’ responsible for the deaths of four American hostages, three Brits and two Japanese citizens has been found guilty on all counts.
Jurors informed the court that they had reached their verdict at 12.15pm Thursday.
After a trial that lasted more than two weeks and saw the prosecution call 35 witnesses, it took the 12 men and women less than five hours to reach their unanimous verdict on all eight counts.
They returned to the Alexandria courtroom shortly before 1pm where many of the families of El Shafee Elsheikh’s victims who have been present throughout the trial had gathered.
One by one the verdict for each count was read as Elsheikh, 33, was found guilty of being part of an horrific hostage taking scheme that saw 26 taken and many killed in the most brutal fashion.
Elsheikh is the only ‘Beatle’ to stand trial on American soil for his part in the deaths of journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Two faces of a ‘killer’: El Shafee Elsheikh in 2018 and again in his booking photo taken in 2020. The British jihadist was found guilty of all charges on Thursday
Elsheikh, 33 (pictured in a court room sketch on April 1) and the other three ‘ISIS Beatles’ – so-called because they were all from the UK – are said to have captured 26 hostages between 2012 and 2015 in Syria
Their family members held hands and wiped tears from their faces as they heard the word, ‘Guilty’ delivered again and again and again.
Kayla Muller’s parents sat and wept. Steven Sotloff’s father held the hand of a supporter and nodded as he heard Elsheikh’s guilt in his son’s death declared.
He said he had a bottle of champagne ready.
Peter Kassig’s family smiled through tears and others who could not be in court listened on an open telephone line as the verdict was read.
Bethany Haines was also in court. The daughter of British aid worker David Haines has been present through the proceedings during which her father’s captivity and death at the hands of the Beatles, as well as those of fellow Brits, Alan Henning and John Cantlie, has often been referenced. She wiped tears as she sat and listened.
Elsheikh stood motionless and without any reaction apparently impervious to the rising emotion in the room.
He stood and faced the jury for the first time in proceedings but gave no hint of any impact that their verdict may have had.
After confirming with each juror that this was indeed their true and considered verdict Judge TS Ellis III thanked them for their service and dismissed them.
Before he did so he informed them that Alexanda Kotey – whose name they have heard throughout proceedings as an alleged co-conspirator who was charged on the same counts as Elsheikh – had pleaded guilty and was soon to be sentenced in the same court.
He said: ‘I think it’s reasonable and fair for you to know now that he pleaded guilty on all counts.’
Carl Mueller, the father of murdered aid worker Kayla, said he ‘had no doubt our system would do the right thing’, as he spoke outside the court following the verdict
Rodwan Safer Jalani, a friend of Kayla Mueller, embraced her father in an emotional moment , outside the Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse
US aid worker Kayla Mueller (pictured) was kidnapped by ISIS terrorists while on a trip to Syria with her boyfriend in 2013. She was later forced to marry Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
And he cautioned them against speaking to the media about the deliberations process, saying that he believed that if jurors thought that everything that went on in the jurors’ room could be ‘grist for the media mill,’ it would have a ‘chilling effect’ on justice.
Elsheikh will be sentenced on April 29, the same day as Alexanda Kotey after Assistant US Attorney asked the judge to consolidate the sentencings to save family members from having to deliver their victim impact statements more than once.
Fitzpatrick asked that Elsheikh be present to hear the statements read and sentenced that same day.
Speaking to DailyMail.com Carl Mueller, the father of murdered aid worker Kayla, said: ‘This is justice for our daughter. It’s what our system does and it was an honor to sit here and watch and we have many people to thank – the prosecution and the jury who has to hear so much testimony.’
Asked if he thought he would see this day Mueller said ‘Yes. We’ve been privy to all this evidence for a long time and yes I had no doubt our system would do the right thing.’
Diane Foley, mother of murdered journalist James, told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s a big step towards accountability for the torture and murder of the four Americans and three Brits who were abandoned by their government at the time.
‘Our government has stepped up now so at least we have a bit of justice and we have to thank the prosecutors, Scotland Yard, the FBI and all the courageous witnesses who testified.’
Speaking outside the court, Diane Foley, mother of murdered journalist James (right), said her faith in God is what keeps her motivated but that being at the trial has been, ‘an ordeal’
US Journalist James Wright Foley and ISIS ‘Beatle’ Mohammed Emwazi, aka ‘Jihadi John, are seen in a now notorious video of the hostage’s decapitation in 2014
In the wake of her son’s death Foley founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation advocating for the return of all US nationals who are held hostage and promotes journalist safety.
Right now, she said, they are working to free more than 60 American citizens held around the world.
She said: ‘We have businessmen, we have a pastor, we have a journalist, former marines…and their return is not being prioritized I fear so that is our work.’
Foley said that her faith in God is what keeps her motivated but that being at the trial has been, ‘an ordeal.’
‘We knew our own story of course but hearing other people’s…it’s just heartbreaking and the inhumanity of human beings to one another. It’s so miserably sad,’ she added.
‘But I think it’s very important to dare to be there, to be present, to not be afraid to stand up in front of him to bear witness.
‘I think it was important for all of us to do that in the name of our brave sons and daughter. That was very important to me to face him. Because now he’s a pitiable person really in a way. He’s lost everything.’
The jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon after hearing closing statements from both prosecution and defense.
Judge TS Ellis III dismissed five alternates jurors and sent the remaining jurors out to deliberate shortly after 3pm after lengthy jury instructions.
According to the government, as a member of the ISIS ‘Beatles’ Elsheikh was ‘the lifeblood’ of a ‘horrifying and inhumane hostage-taking scheme’ that saw 26 taken and led to the deaths of the four Americans as well as three British hostages and two Japanese.
Photos taken in 2014 by a Syrian reporter showed the abandoned factory turned ISIS prison in Sheikh Najjar, Syria where Western hostages were reportedly kept for months
One hostage claimed that the basement was divided into two different sections; the first was converted into about 14 dingy single cells and the second into 12 single cells and three big rooms
This was the message that First Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District Raj Parekh delivered to jurors in his closing argument Wednesday morning
Standing to address the court shortly after 9:00am, he spoke for just over an hour, methodically presenting a powerful case and, he told them, a ‘mosaic’ of evidence that when put together creates an undeniable picture of guilt.
The majority of this is, he argued, ‘straightforward and clean cut’ with Elsheikh condemned in part by his own ‘brazen words.’
Across their case which lasted just over two weeks and saw 35 witnesses called, the government sought to use Elsheikh’s own boastful words against him, playing sections of media interviews given in 2019 in which he admitted to being involved in the American and British hostages’ fates.
According to Parekh, Elsheikh recounted, ‘in granular detail’ information that only a member of the Beatles group would have known.
He reminded the court of the words of the witnesses who described the Beatles’ garb then pointed to a picture of Elsheikh dressed in just such a fashion. Elsheikh and his cohorts were nicknamed after the superstar band because they were all British.
The picture was sent by Elsheikh to his brother in which he described himself as being ‘Rambo style’ and it was the image identified by self-confessed convicted terrorist Omer Kuzu, who told the court that he met Elsheikh when he was using a nom du guerre and fighting for ISIS between 2014 and 2017.
Parekh played clips of the interviews given by Elsheikh – interviews that the defense had sought to keep out of evidence.
Carl Mueller, left, and Marsha Mueller, right, parents of Kayla Mueller who was killed by Islamic State militants depart court on April 14 after ISIS ‘Beatle’ El Shafee Elsheikh is found guilty
Paula and Ed Kassig, the parents of hostage Peter Kassig slain by Islamic State militants, arrive to the Albert V. Bryan Federal Courthouse to hear the verdict in the trial of IS member El Shafee Elsheikh in Alexandria, Virginia on April 14
Kassig was seen at the end of a video which showed the killing of aid worker Alan Henning
In opening arguments, the defense that acknowledged Elsheikh was an Islamic State jihadist but insisted he was not one of the ‘Beatles’ and it was a case of ‘mistaken identity.’
Parekh flipped between Elsheikh’s words and the testimony of the 12 ex-hostages who had testified in court.
The court heard Elsheikh boast: ‘I know how to inflict pain to a certain level…I know how to cause real damage…I’ve hit all the prisoners.’
Then they were reminded of the testimony of witnesses who recalled being waterboarded, beaten with electric cables, kicked, given dead legs, placed in stress positions, enduring mock executions, and being psychologically and physically tortured close to breaking point.
Parekh picked up particular words and phrases that Elsheikh used and pointed to how they mirrored the language of ransom emails sent to hostage families.
The language was the same, he told the court, because Elsheikh was there – he wrote them. ‘The words roll off the tip of his tongue,’ he said.
Pictures of the hostages who were beheaded were displayed in a collage as Parekh told the court: ‘We have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that El Shafee Elsheikh is one of the Beatles.’
And as of the Beatles, the told them, his guilt on all other counts must follow.
One female juror vigorously nodded her head as Parekh spoke.
While working as a freelance war correspondent during the Syrian Civil War, Foley was abducted on November 22, 2012, in northwestern Syria
Foley, a freelance photographer, is pictured shortly before he was beheaded by Jihadi John – real name Mohammed Emwazi – in Raqqa, Syria, in August 2014
Victims: Left: US freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. Right: US aide worker Kayla Mueller, 26. Both were killed in Syria by ISIS
Victims: Slain American James Foley covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria in 2012 and US aid worker Peter Kassig – otherwise known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig – in Syria
He concluded by turning to the victims: ‘They were humanitarians and journalists who came to promote peace and enlightenment in a war-torn country and to alleviate suffering among those most in need.
‘The defendant responded with systematic, premeditated and relentless abuse and torture.
‘His crimes left a legacy of brutal killings and shattered families, and we respectfully request you return a verdict of guilty for each and every count.’
Attorney Nina Ginsberg took the podium next to deliver a halting closing argument for the defense.
Where Parekh had insisted again and again that Elsheikh was a Beatle, Ginsberg was left to circle the fact that none of the former hostages had been able to identify him.
They had all testified that he was masked at all times and they were too terrified to dare look for fear of incurring punishment or worse.
The only person who had positively identified him was, she said, Omer Kuzu whom she characterized as a man trying to ‘please’ the government in a bid to see a 20-year sentence in federal prison reduced.
As to those apparently damning confessions made by Elsheikh himself in numerous media interviews, Ginsberg cast them as a desperate man’s bid to save himself from a fate worse than trial in the USA or Britain.
At the time he made those admissions he had, she told the court, been held in a Syrian prison for more than a year and knew that ISIS members were being sent to Iraq for summary trials and swift executions.
If he confessed to involvement in Western hostage taking, he could hope for a fair trial in either Britain or America.
Ginsberg walked a dangerous line as she appeared to try to elicit sympathy for Elsheikh, whom she did not attempt to exonerate from membership of ISIS.
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 Syria in 2021
She pointed to his physically and mentally diminished condition after a lengthy period in custody and drew disgusted intakes of breath from hostage family members who sat in court when she said, ‘[He made his admissions] only after he’d been held for a year and a half which was longer than some of the hostages were held that he had implicated himself in.’
She went on to draw an objection from the prosecution when she sought to present Elsheikh as simply a man who had stood by his friends even when they had committed acts of which he did not necessarily approve and in which he was not necessarily involved.
The ‘friends’ of which she spoke were Mohammed Emwazi ‘Jihadi John’ and Alexe Kotey – two of the so-called Beatles.
Addressing the jury Ginsberg suggested: ‘The government would have you believe that because these men were friends, Mr. Elsheik must have participated in their worst behavior.’
When she said that she was sure that all the jurors must personally know friends or family whom they continue to love despite bad, even criminal behavior, prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick stood to object.
Trying again Ginsberg said: ‘It would be reasonable to assume that there are people who have behaved badly, even hurt people but that those individuals [who are friends] do not abandon or stop loving those people.
‘Mr. Elsheikh’s relationship with Kotey and Emwazi is just that.’
Someone in the gallery muttered: ‘How dare she?’
Stumbling towards a close, Ginsberg admitted that the jury might find guilt on Elsheikh’s role in ISIS.
Halting for an inordinate period of time, more than one hour in, Judge Ellis was forced to ask: ‘Anything further? There was a very long pause.’
Ginsberg soldiered on, wrapping up her closing argument by asserting that while jurors may disapprove of his involvement in ISIS, the government had not proved that her client was a Beatle nor that he was involved in any of the hostage taking or deaths with which he has been charged.
Elsheikh is pictured, right, with ISIS Beatle Alexander Kotey, left, who struck a plea bargain last year in return for life behind bars
The fourth suspected ‘Beatle’, Aine Davis, is pictured in 2014. He is currently serving a prison sentence at a Turkish jail
The savage ISIS Beatles, including Jihadi John ringleader who shared beheading videos online and killed innocent British aid workers
Mohammed Emwazi – Jihadi John
Emwazi was one of the most prominent members of the so-called ISIS Beatles and was regularly seen carrying out executions in their horrific beheading videos.
He took part in the barbaric beheadings of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and US humanitarian worker Peter Kassig.
The terrorist, who was born in Kuwait and grew up in Queen’s Park, West London, was charged with 27 counts of murder and five counts of hostage taking in November 2014.
He was killed in a Hellfire missile drone strike in Syria in 2015.
Aine Lesley Davis – Paul
Davis was born Aine Leslie Junior Davis in 1984 to Fay Rodriquez, and is believed to have spent the early years of his childhood in Hammersmith, London, where his mother lived.
He was one of 13 children his father had by four different women.
The former tube driver, who has drug-dealing and firearms convictions to his name, converted to Islam while in prison.
In 2014 his wife, Amal el-Wahabi, was convicted of funding terrorism after she persuaded a friend to try and smuggle £16,000 ($21,000) in cash in her underwear to him.
Davis was captured by Turkish security officials in 2015 and was later found guilty of being a senior member of a terrorist organization and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
Alexanda Kotey – George
Kotey, 38, was born to a Ghanaian father and a Greek Cypriot mother and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush, London.
Before his radicalization, he is thought to have worked as a drug dealer before converting to Islam in his early 20s.
In 2012, he left for Syria where the US claims he was involved in beheadings and known for administering ‘exceptionally cruel torture methods’, including electronic shocks.
He is also accused of acting as an ISIS recruiter who convinced a number of other British extremists to join the terror group.
Kotey was captured in Syria while trying to escape to Turkey in 2018 and was held in a US military center in Iraq.
The British Government wanted him tried in the US, where officials believe there is a more realistic chance of prosecution than in the UK.
He was extradited last year and was charged with a number of terror offenses. He pleaded guilty in September 2021 and was sentnced to life in prison, 15 years of which would be spent in the United States and then he would be transferred to the United Kingdom.
El Shafee Elsheikh
El Shafee Elsheikh – Ringo
Born in Sudan, Elsheikh, 33, grew up in West London and is the final member of the four British terrorists who fled to join ISIS.
He has been linked to the killings of a number of hostages after heading to Syria to join the extremist group.
He was captured along with Kotey when they tried to flee to Turkey in 2018 and has since been transported to the US where he now faces charges relating to terrorism and beheading Western hostages.