El Shafee Elsheikh, a British Isis fighter on trial in the US, beat hostages “to walk away,” prosecutors claimed, as the jihadist appeared in federal court over his role in the kidnapping and murder of four Americans.
London-born Elsheikh is accused of being part of a cell that held more than 20 hostages between 2012 and 2015. He is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia.
The court heard that he and alleged co-conspirators Alexanda Kotey and Mohammed Emwazi – an executioner better known as “Jihadi John” – formed a group known by their captives as “The Beatles” in part because of their British accent.
Prosecutor John Gibbs said Elsheikh was known as “Ringo” and was remembered by hostages for his unusual penchant for brutality, even within a terrorist group known for its cruelty.
Mr Gibbs said interviews Elsheikh gave after his arrest in 2018, in which he admitted to being beaten, will be broadcast.
Surviving hostages will testify that Elsheikh and his British partners were more likely to deal punches than regular guards, according to prosecutors.
The three even gave “exit punches” to hostages who were due to be released after a ransom had been paid, Mr Gibbs said.
When Elsheikh and the others learned a European hostage was celebrating his 25th birthday, they hit him exactly 25 times, Mr Gibbs said.
The prosecutor referred to only three British nationals, while public debate has usually recognized a fourth “Beatle” in Aine Davis, who is serving a prison sentence in Turkey on terrorism charges.
Emwazi was killed in a drone attack in 2015, and Kotey was captured along with Elsheikh and also taken to Virginia to stand trial. Kotey pled guilty last year in a plea bargain seeking a life sentence.
Elsheikh is the most prominent Isis member to be tried, and the trial may shed some light on the inner workings of the terrorist group.
He is accused of murdering journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and development workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. The indictment also blames him for the deaths of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
The trial is expected to last four weeks and will hear testimony from more than 30 witnesses – some of them former prisoners of the group.
Mr Gibbs said interviews Elsheikh gave to the FBI, Department of Defense and the media after his arrest in 2018 were being used against him.
Elsheikh admitted he was an Isis fighter overseeing western hostages. He also admitted to beating the hostages and being involved in ransom demands.
Edward MacMahon, defending himself, said his client testified during his captivity fearing for his life and that evidence supporting what he told journalists would prove contradictory.
The defense accepts that Elsheikh was linked to Isis but denies that he was a member of the “Beatles” and has claimed a case of mistaken identity.
Additional coverage from the Associated Press