USA: Life sentence for Islamic State hijacker

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A British citizen was sentenced Friday to life in prison for his role in the deaths of four American hostages held by the Islamic State. Prosecutors said El Shafee Elsheikh participated in an ISIS plot that took about 20 Westerners hostage a decade ago.

Elsheikh's hostages gave him a somewhat fanciful nickname — they dubbed him “the Beatle” along with other captors because of his British accent — but the nickname showed cruel behavior.

"This trial unmasked the cruel and sadistic Beatles of ISIS," said Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh, who noted that Elsheikh and the other "Beatles" always wore masks when in front of their captives.

He was the highest-ranking and most notorious member of the Islamic State ever found guilty in a US court, prosecutors said Friday at a sentencing hearing in federal court in Alexandria. A life sentence was almost guaranteed after a jury earlier this year found him guilty of kidnapping resulting in death and other crimes.

The convictions were handed down for the deaths of four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. With the exception of Mueller, all were executed in videotaped beheadings posted online. Mueller was forced into slavery and raped numerous times by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before being killed.

The four were among 26 hostages taken between 2012 and 2015, when the extremist group controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria.

The sentences carried a mandatory life sentence. The United States has agreed not to seek the death penalty as part of a deal that secured the extradition of Elsheikh and his friend, Alexanda Kotey, who has already been sentenced to life in prison.

Parekh said it was difficult to convey the brutality of Elsheikh's actions. "We lack the vocabulary of such pain," he added, paraphrasing Dante Alighieri's Inferno.

Victims of Elsheikh and the rest of the captors testified at the hearing on Friday and expressed what they suffered. Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottosen, who was released after paying a ransom, said the worst moments were the silences during and after captivity, when he was alone with his thoughts.

He said that when Elsheikh and the other captors beat him it was almost a relief. “Then I knew that I could only focus on my pain, which was much easier than being alone with your thoughts,” he declared.