'Beatle' El Shafee Elsheikh found guilty for his role in Islamic State killings

Bereaved families finally get justice, if not peace, ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports

A British national accused of taking a leading role in a scheme by so-called Islamic State has been found guilty.

El Shafee Elsheikh was one of a gang of four IS militants nicknamed the 'Beatles' by their captives, due to their British accents. 

The jury deliberated for four hours before finding Elsheikh guilty on all counts.

Elsheikh stood motionless and gave no visible reaction as the verdict was read. He now faces up to a life sentence in prison.

The cell was said to be made up of ringleader Mohammed Emwazi (known as Jihadi John), Aine Davis, Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey.

While in Syria, they were allegedly responsible for the brutal killings of a number of Western and Japanese captives, including Britons Alan Henning and David Haines.

In 2019, ITV News quizzed Elsheikh about the death of Briton David Haines

The notorious group became known for their cruelty - torturing and beating prisoners, forcing them to fight each other until they collapsed and even making them sing cruel song parodies.

Surviving hostages testified that the 'Beatles' delighted themselves in rewriting Hotel California and Hotel Osama - marking them sing the refrain "you will never leave."

Elsheikh, 33, is the last of the 'Beatles' to have had his fate decided. Emwazi was killed by a US drone strike in 2015, while Davis is serving a sentence in a Turkish jail. Kotey, meanwhile, has already pleaded guilty.

The slayings sparked outrage and revulsion around the world after being broadcast in graphic detail.

From L to R: David Haines, Kayla Mueller and James Foley. Credit: PA/ Family handout

In 2011, Kotey and Elsheikh had been arrested as they took part in a demonstration outside the US embassy in London in support of the 9/11 attacks.

They travelled to Syria the following year.

ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy has been watching the trial, she describes how the families of the dead "listened to the hell endured by those they love in the final months of their lives."

She reported that those listening made notes through "horrific testimony" as well as sitting through images of "orange jump suits and balaclava-clad executioners."

Read Emma Murphy's reflections in full.

ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reflects on the significance of the conviction

How was a guilty verdict reached?

The guilty finding came even though none of the surviving hostages could identify Elsheikh as one of their captors. Although the 'Beatles' had distinctive accents, they always took great care to hide their faces behind masks and ordered hostages to avoid eye contact or risk a beating.

Prosecutors suggested in opening statements that Elsheikh was the Beatle nicknamed “Ringo” but only had to prove that Elshiekh was one of the Beatles because testimony showed that all three were major players in the scheme.

Listen to 'Shamima Begum: The Blame Game', available on Apple podcasts, and other platforms from today

The surviving hostages, all of whom were European — the American and British hostages were all killed — testified that they dreaded the Beatles' appearance at the various prisons to which they constantly shuttled and relocated.

The convictions on all eight counts in US District Court in Alexandria revolved around the deaths of four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

They were among 26 hostages taken captive between 2012 and 2015, when IS controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Defence lawyers acknowledged that Elsheikh joined IS but said prosecutors failed to prove he was a 'Beatle'. They cited a lack of clarity about which 'Beatle' was which, and back in the trial's opening statement cited the confusion about whether there were three or four 'Beatles'.