ISIS Beatle's Journey from 'Perfect Son' in White City To 8 Life Sentences

QPR-supporting El Shafee Elsheikh likely to spend rest his days in American jail

El Shafee Elsheikh aged 15 on right, with his mother and younger brother Mahmoud
El Shafee Elsheikh aged 15 on right, with his mother and younger brother Mahmoud. Picture: Facebook

A man from White City who was one of the Islamic State ‘Beatles’ has received eight life sentences after being convicted of terrorist offences in an American court.

Watched by the families of the aid workers in whose murder he participated, El Shafee Elsheikh showed no emotion as judge Thomas Selby Ellis delivered his verdict at Alexandria District Court, Virginia on 21 August.

His lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that the evidence for him being ‘Ringo’ in the group of four jihadists from England who were involved in a series of beheadings was confused and unclear but evidence collected by the Metropolitan Police helped create a convincing case against him. The sentences will run concurrently but the prospects of his eventual release seem highly uncertain as there is no parole for Federal sentences in the US. He is reportedly planning an appeal on the basis of inadequate counsel.

Diane Foley, whose son James had been killed by the gang said to Elsheikh affter the sentence was handed down, "El Shafee, you will spend the rest of your life imprisoned for your horrific deeds. But you, too, have lost — your freedom, your citizenship and family contact. We have all lost.

"Love is so much stronger than hatred. I pity you for choosing hatred and for succumbing to a false theology because Islam is truly a religion of mercy and peace."

Elsheikh came to west London in 1993, aged five, when his family fled Sudan after his father and mother, both members of the Community Party, had opposed Islamic dictator Omar al-Bashir. His father left his mother and two brothers two years later.

He had ambitions to become an engineer and, after leaving school, studied mechanical engineering at Acton College and worked on motorcycles in the garden of his home. He found employment in a local garage as well as earning extra income from helping maintain the rides at funfairs on Shepherd’s Bush Green.

His mother, Maha Elgizouli, described him as the perfect son and "Shaf", as he was known to friends, supported Queen's Park Rangers and was a member of the local Army Cadet Force for three years from the age of 11.

Then in 2008, when he was 19, he was stabbed multiple times on the estate in which he lived. His older brother, Khalid, tracked down 20-year-old Craig Brown, a local drug dealer, the person he believed was responsible for the attack on his brother. A fight ensued in which part of Khalid’s ear was bitten off.

That Christmas Eve, Craig Brown was gunned down on Loftus Road as he was unloading his car after a shopping trip with his partner and five-year-old son. 16-year-old Nathan Harris was found guilty of murder but Khalid was cleared of murder and convicted of the lesser charge of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. He was jailed for ten years.

It was after this that Elsheikh grew his beard started wearing long black robes. He was often seen distributing Islamist literature outside Shepherd's Bush Market.

His mother believes that the change in her son was brought about by exposure to the teaching of west London Imam Hani al-Sibai who she says she confronted and slapped saying, ‘What have you done to my son?’. Despite her efforts to discourage him, he became increasingly extreme in his views and eventually left home in 2012 ending up in Syria.

iEl Shafee Elsheikh during his trial. Picture: Alexandria Sheriff's Office

Initially, he was associated with Jabhat al-Nusra, a group associated with al-Qaeda but quickly switched to ISIS or Daesh. There he linked up with friends he had known in west London including Aine Davis, Mohammed Emwazi, later known as "Jihadi John" and Alexanda Kotey who was dubbed "George" by the people the group had taken hostage. Kotey, was described by neighbours as a quiet man who was also a dedicated QPR fan. However, the Muslim convert, is believed to have been connected to the 'London Boys' a network of extremists who played five-a-side football in west London and who have been linked to the 7/7 London bombings and the subsequent failed 21/7 plot. He is also suspected of helping to organise the terror plot in 2014 which aimed to murder soldiers and police officers in Shepherd's Bush. He converted after meeting Emwazi at the Al-Manaar mosque in Ladbroke Grove, where their extremist views led to them being marginalised.

Later in 2012, John Cantlie, a British freelance journalist, and American photojournalist James Foley, were kidnapped whilst in northern Syria. In the months that followed, a number of other journalists and aid workers were kidnapped in the same region, including two other UK nationals – David Haines and Alan Henning. Propaganda videos released by Daesh showed a man, now believed to be Emwazi, with a British accent beheading hostages. Witness accounts, alongside other information and intelligence gathered, indicated that those involved in detaining hostages were UK nationals, most likely from London, who had travelled to Syria. According to US officials, the group was responsible for the beheading of at least 27 hostages and the torture of many others. Elsheikh, was not believed to have undertaken any of the beheadings, but he was responsible for guarding prisoners and subjected them to waterboarding and mock executions.

Kotey and Elsheikh were first identified by the British Police as being members of the ISIS Beatles after a freed hostage reported overhearing a conversation between the two about being arrested following an altercation with the English Defence League (EDL) when they were participating in a Muslims Against Crusades demonstration outside the American Embassy on September 11, 2011.

Further evidence against Elsheikh was provided when his brother Khalid, by this time out of prison, was arrested again in 2014 for possession of a handgun. An analysis of his phone showed that he had received a phone call from his brother in Syria.

Younger brother Mahmoud had also got involved with Islamic fundamentalism and is believed to have died fighting for Islamic State in Iraq in 2015. Emwazi died aged in a US drone attack on 12 November 2015.

In January 2018, Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in Syria by members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

His mother fought a legal battle to prevent him going on trial in the US fearing that he would receive the death penalty but the Americans agreed to take that off the table in return for full cooperation from the British in their investigation and agreement to his extradition. Initially, the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, had indicated that he would not be seeking any assurances from the US on the use of capital punishment.

Met officers and staff – both serving, and retired – travelled to America to give this evidence in person during Elsheikh’s trial earlier this year.

Unlike Kotey, who pleaded guilty all of the charges against him and has subsequently expressed remorse to the families of his victims, Elsheikh pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnap, conspiracy to murder and providing material support to terrorism refusing to give evidence.

On Friday, 19 August Elsheikh was given eight life sentences for grave terrorist crimes involving the torture and murder of a number of hostages taken by Daesh in 2014 and 2015.

Commander Richard Smith, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said, “This is one of the most significant international terrorism cases ever brought to trial. These were some of the most barbaric terrorist acts ever seen, carried out with chilling callousness and brutality.

“This is a time to remember all of the victims – those innocent people who were senselessly killed, and also the surviving hostages who experienced unimaginable horrors at the hands of El Shafee Elsheikh and his co-defendant Alexanda Kotey. They have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.

“I hope that those most affected may take some comfort in knowing that these extremely dangerous men have been brought to justice.”

He added: “This was a painstaking investigation, unprecedented in scale, carried out by skilled and determined officers which involved taking tiny fragments of information about these men - gathered from isolated events that occurred years earlier – and piecing them together to paint a compelling picture proving their involvement in terrorist crimes committed in Syria.

“Elsheikh and Kotey thought they were beyond the reach of the law, but they were wrong. I want to acknowledge the huge amount of work prosecutors and law enforcement colleagues in America have done over several years to ensure that justice was achieved for all the victims in this case.

“Tackling terrorism is a truly global effort, and this case was an example of how we work closely with law enforcement and security partners in the US, Europe and elsewhere to stop terrorists operating wherever they are in the world.”


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August 29, 2022