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ISIS 'Beatle' El Shafee Elsheikh sentenced to life for torturing and murdering American hostages

Elsheikh was found guilty in April on charges related to the deaths of four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

A British national who was a member of the Islamic State terrorist group and convicted for his role in taking roughly two dozen Westerners captive a decade ago, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, was sentenced Friday to life in prison.

El Shafee Elsheikh, one of the notorious "Beatles" — a nickname for four Islamic State captors known for their accents and their cruelty — was found guilty in April on charges related to the deaths of the four American hostages: James FoleySteven SotloffPeter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

All of the hostages, except Mueller, were executed in videotaped beheadings posted online. Mueller was forced into slavery and raped multiple times by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before she was killed.

Kayla Mueller
Kayla Mueller in 2013.Matt Hinshaw / The Daily Courier via AP

A federal judge sentenced Elsheikh to a life sentence for each of the eight counts he was convicted of.

Diane Foley, James Foley's mother, said they welcome the sentence.

"With today’s verdict, we finally have a bit of justice," she said at a news conference Friday.

"Today is the 8th anniversary of our son Jim’s gruesome beheading by ISIS. But today we remember four extraordinary young Americans," she said. "These brave Americans saw the suffering of the Syrian people and decided to help, whether it was by providing humanitarian aid or by telling the world about the tragic Syrian crisis. They’ve left a legacy of profound moral courage."

Carl Mueller, Kayla Mueller's father, said he thought the life sentence was fair.

"What he did to the Americans and all the other hostages, he will spend the rest of his days in a cell and have the time to consider what he’s done," he said at the news conference.

Art and Shirley Sotloff said in a prepared statement that they hope their son is "looking down upon us and all involved and saying, 'Thank you.'"

Ed and Paula Kassig, the parents of Peter Kassig, said testimony from the surviving hostages was crucial in getting a conviction.

More than 20 hostages were taken captive from 2012 to 2015 when the Islamic State group controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria.

During Elsheikh’s trial, the surviving hostages — all of whom are European — testified that they dreaded the Beatles' appearance. They said the Beatles would rewrite the song "Hotel California" as "Hotel Osama" and would make them sing the refrain, "You will never leave."

Witness Federico Motka testified that in the summer of 2013, he and cellmate David Haines were put in a room with American hostage Foley and British hostage John Cantlie for a "Royal Rumble." Motka said that they were told the losers of the fight would be waterboarded. Due to extreme hunger, two of the four passed out during the hourslong battle.

Elsheikh had confessed to his role in the hostage-taking scheme to interrogators and in media interviews but only acknowledged collecting email addresses and providing proof of life to the hostages' families as part of ransom negotiations.

Journalist James Foley during an interview in Boston in 2011.
Journalist James Foley during an interview in Boston in 2011.Steven Senne / AP file

Prosecutors said during Elsheikh's trial that he was much more involved than that and that he had carried out the tortuous scheme with two friends he knew in England, Alexenda Kotey and Mohammed Emwazi.

Emwazi, who carried out the executions, was killed in a drone strikeKotey and Elsheikh were captured together in 2018 and brought to Virginia in 2020 to face trial after the U.S. promised not to seek the death penalty. Kotey pleaded guilty last year in a plea bargain that calls for a life sentence but leaves open the possibility that he could serve out his sentence in the United Kingdom after 15 years in the U.S.