Thursday, December 01, 2022

ISIS member accused of killing several Americans is on trial

Al Shafi Elsheikh, who grew up in London, is accused of being a member of a group of ISIS militants – called the “Beatles” by their captors because of their British accent – who traveled from England to Syria, according to court documents . 2012 and joined the terrorist organization.

According to prosecutors, Elsheikh helped release ISIS terrorists into prison or take hostages for ransom. While some were released, several hostages were executed on camera by the group for propaganda films.

Elsheikh, the last alleged member of the terror cell to face trial, has been charged with hostage-taking, resulting in the deaths of four Americans: journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. Elsheikh’s co-defendant, Alexandra Cote, pleaded guilty in September.

Another member of the terrorist cell, Mohamed Emwazi, who prosecutors say was responsible for beheading several of the hostages, was killed in a drone strike in 2015.

During his opening statement, prosecutors outlined the charges against Elsheikh, foreshadowing evidence presented to the jury in the three- to four-week trial, including interviews with Elsheikh, in which he said he had ” He had confessed to being a part of The Beatles. The terrorist cell took part in the beatings and conducted communications with the families of the hostages.

“This is a case about four Americans held captive in Syria,” Assistant US Attorney John Gibbs told jurors on Tuesday, adding that they will hear “horrific testimony” about the hostages’ treatment and their eventual death.

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Gibbs told the jury that Elsheikh was captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in 2018 and identified after US officials took his fingerprints and ran them through Justice Department databases. During his time in SDF custody, the FBI as well as media outlets interviewed Elsheikh about his time as an ISIS terrorist and his role with the hostages.

“He described his role in obtaining email addresses for the families”, Gibbs said, adding that Elsheikh also said he would participate in the beatings of the hostages.

According to prosecutors, the Americans and at least 16 other Western hostages were taken and dispersed in at least nine different makeshift prisons across Syria, where they were beaten, tortured and, in some cases, eventually their was murdered.

Gibbs described the brutal ends of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig—filmed by the terrorist group—which the government is prepared to show jury images of later in the trial. According to Gibbs, Mueller was taken hostage as a slave for ISIS in August 2013 and repeatedly raped by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, before ISIS claimed a Jordanian airstrike. Was.

In his comparatively brief opening statement, one of Elscheid’s lawyers, Edward McMahon, told the jury that while the crimes are “beyond heartbreaking and horrifying,” Elscheid was not a member of the “Beatles” terrorist cell, but an “ordinary person”. ISIS fighter”. ,

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McMahon said the evidence is “inconsistent at best,” adding witness testimony from other hostages in the terrorist cell would have differing versions “of which Beetle is.” According to McMahon, Elsheikh traveled to Syria to help victims under President Bashar al-Assad and was trying to protect himself and his family while interviewed by the US government and media outlets.

Family members of the victims were present in the courtroom on Tuesday, including Foley’s parents and David Haynes’ daughter Bethany Haines – a British aid worker killed by the group. Bethany Haines and Foley’s mother, Diane, along with several other members of the victim’s family, took notes in the opening statements, sitting calm and attentive as each side outlined the upcoming case.

Elsheikh was also in the courtroom, wearing a blue button-down shirt and goggles covering his mouth and part of his beard.

During the trial, the Justice Department will show jury propaganda films from ISIS, photographs of deceased victims, letters, email correspondence between the victims and the families of ISIS, as well as bring witnesses who were also hostages to the group to testify. One of the witnesses set to testify is a Kurdish woman who was enslaved by ISIS along with Mueller.

Ellis, a judge for the Eastern District of Virginia federal court, is presiding over the trial.

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