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Jury selection starts in IS Beatle jihadist trial

Jury selection starts in IS Beatle jihadist trial

Image source, unknown/HO via Met Police, Kotey, Handout

Image caption,

Mohammed Emwazi, Aine Davis, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh (l to r)

A British-born man who was one of the so-called Islamic State Beatles is on trial in a US federal court, accused of hostage-taking and conspiring to murder several Western journalists and aid workers.

El Shafee Elsheikh is alleged to be one of a group of IS fighters from Britain who tortured hostages in Syria and posted execution videos.

He is the last of the group to be brought to justice.

Who were the IS Beatles?

All four grew up in west London. They volunteered to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria and ended up guarding Western hostages.

Hostages dubbed them the Beatles because of their English accents and nicknamed them separately as John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Three are still living – Aine Davis, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh.

Mohammed Emwazi, who was known as Jihadi John, was killed in Syria, in 2015.

US authorities say the group beheaded 27 hostages. Videos of the executions were sent around the world, causing outrage.

Hostages also recall the group torturing with electric shocks, waterboarding and mock executions.

They were “thugs with no knowledge of what is religion at all”, Spanish journalist and former hostage Javier Espinosa told BBC News, in 2017.

Image caption,

El Shafee Elsheikh is said to have earned a reputation for “waterboarding, mock executions and crucifixions”

Who is El Shafee Elsheikh?

El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, is the son of Sudanese refugees who came to Britain. He went to Syria in 2012 and joined al-Qaeda before signing up with IS.

Hostages called him Jihadi George and say as the main guard, he carried out most of the torture.

Elsheikh was captured by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, in January 2018, as they overran the last pieces of IS-controlled territory in Syria.

He is charged with taking hostages, resulting in the deaths of four Americans – journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.

Image caption,

Clockwise from top left: Abdul-Rahman Kassig, Steven Sotloff, James Foley, Kenji Goto, David Haines, Alan Henning

Elsheikh is also charged with conspiring in the deaths of the British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and Japanese journalists Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto.

He was stripped of his British citizenship in 2018.

Elsheikh denies being part of the cell with the other three British fighters but admits joining IS in Syria.

Who are the other IS Beatles?

Image source, unknown

Image caption,

Emwazi, thought to be the group’s ringleader, was killed after an intensive manhunt in 2015

Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed Jihadi John, fronted an number of videos showing executed hostages.

Born in Kuwait, his family moved to the UK when he was six years old, in 1988. He graduated from the University of Westminster, in 2009, in computer programming.

Throughout 2014, Emwazi was shown, with his face disguised, in a number of videos where Western hostages appeared to be beheaded.

Image source, HO via Met office

Image caption,

Davis was jailed for seven and a half years, in Turkey, last year

Aine Davis lived in Hammersmith. He had a number of drug convictions and was jailed in 2006 for possessing a firearm.

After converting to Islam, Davis changed his name to Hamza and met Emwazi. The two were part of a group that radicalised Muslims living in London. Davis left the UK to join IS in 2013.

Arrested near Istanbul, in 2015, he was convicted, in Turkey, in 2017, of being a senior member of a terrorist organisation and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Image caption,

Kotey was one of two men reportedly “unmasked” by media reports in 2016

Alexanda Kotey is of Ghanaian and Greek Cypriot background and attended the same al-Manaar mosque in west London as Emwazi.

He was captured in Syria by Kurdish forces, alongside Elsheikh.

In September 2021, in a US federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Kotey pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges including lethal hostage-taking and conspiracy to support terrorists.

He admitted involvement in Mr Sotloff’s death, as well as the murders of Mr Foley, Ms Mueller and Mr Kassig.

These offences carry the death penalty – but US authorities have told Britain they will not execute Kotey.

Instead, he faces life imprisonment.

He has been stripped of British citizenship.