A US jury has convicted an Isis fighter accused of abducting American and European hostages in Syria, some of whom were gruesomely executed for propaganda videos.
El Shafee Elsheikh, a former British citizen, on Thursday was found guilty of all counts in the case, including hostage-taking resulting in death and conspiracy to murder US citizens outside the country. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors said Elsheikh was part of a notorious Isis cell that abducted foreigners in Syria, nicknamed “the Beatles” because of its members’ British accents. His defence has argued Elsheikh was an ordinary Isis soldier, and he has denied involvement in the killing of western hostages.
Elsheikh’s conviction in Virginia comes two years after he was charged by the US Department of Justice, which alleged he “engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence” against victims including four American hostages: Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
US authorities alleged the Isis group also included Mohammed Emwazi, who beheaded several of the hostages on camera and was killed in a US drone strike in 2015, and Alexanda Kotey, who last year pleaded guilty to the same charges faced by Elsheikh. Kotey faces life in prison.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured together in 2018 by the Syrian Democratic Forces as they were attempting to escape the country and head for Turkey, according to US authorities.
They were not accused of killing hostages themselves, but US authorities alleged the pair helped abduct hostages between 2012 and 2015, co-ordinated ransom negotiations, and helped set up and film executions that were ultimately committed by Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John.
The two were transferred into US military custody in 2019 despite a legal battle in UK courts. The US ultimately brought charges against Elsheikh and Kotey after securing an agreement from the UK to provide critical evidence, in return for ruling out the death penalty if the men were convicted.
Elsheikh’s lawyer said she respected the jury’s verdict.