Trial of alleged ISIS 'Beatles' member begins in US

Jury selection starts in the case against El Shafee Elsheikh, who is on trial for charges including lethal hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit murder

Captured British terrorists El Shafee Elsheikh, left, and Alexanda Kotey. AFP
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Jury selection began on Tuesday in the trial of a British national charged with taking a leading role in a scheme by ISIS to take Americans and others as hostages for ransom, resulting in the deaths and beheadings of multiple US citizens.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, is better known as one of “the Beatles,” a nickname he and three other Brits were given by their captives because of their accents.

He is charged in a federal indictment as a leading participant in “a brutal hostage-taking scheme targeting American and European citizens” from 2012 through 2015, when ISIS controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria and engaged in some of its most disturbing conduct.

He is specifically charged with conspiring in the kidnapping and deaths of four Americans — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.

Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were all beheaded. Mueller was tortured and raped by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before she was killed.

A pool of 100 potential jurors was questioned on Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Alexandria about their knowledge of the case and their ability to sit for a trial expected to last three to four weeks.

Mr Elshiekh sat quietly with his defence lawyers through the proceedings, wearing a white button-down shirt and his face covered with a mask.

Families of the slain hostages will be at the courthouse throughout the trial and several are expected to testify. Prosecutors have also indicated they plan to call as witnesses Yazidi girls who were held captive alongside Mueller but later escaped.

Mr Elsheikh and another member of the cell, Alexanda Kotey, were held in Iraq by the US military before being flown to America to face trial.

The trial of Mr Elsheikh will take place in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen who oversaw the executions as part of the group, died in a drone strike in 2015. Aine Davis, the fourth member, was convicted in Turkey on terrorism charges and jailed.

Left to right, aid worker Kayla Mueller, journalist James Foley, air worker Peter Kassig and journalist Steven Sotloff. AFP

Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Mueller and Kassig. He will be sentenced next month.

He was a UK citizen before the British government withdrew his citizenship.

The charges against Mr Elsheikh, also a UK citizen, could carry the death sentence, but US prosecutors have advised British officials that they will not seek such a penalty against Mr Elsheikh or Kotey.

US District Judge T S Ellis, who will oversee the trial, is expected to spend Tuesday questioning potential jurors to ensure a fair trial.

Updated: March 30, 2022, 12:38 AM