A member of a group of British Islamic State terrorists dubbed "the Beatles" by their hostages was sentenced Friday in a U.S. district court to 8 concurrent life terms for kidnapping and murdering freelance journalist James Foley and participating in the detention and murders of three other Americans.
The sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, comes on the eighth anniversary of Foley's murder which was broadcast across the world in a chilling beheading video by ISIS. Elsheikh was also convicted and sentenced for the kidnapping and murder of journalist Steven Sotloff, human rights activist Kayla Mueller and aid worker Peter Kassig.
Elsheikj, who was captured in Syria in 2018 alongside fellow "Beatle" Alexanda Kotey, was described by prosecutors at his sentencing hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia as the most notorious, highest-ranking member of ISIS to face trial in the U.S. The foursome had held hostage 26 Westerners and murdered four Americans and several British and Japanese nationals in Syria.
Kotey was sentenced to life in prison in April.
Judge T.S. Ellis on Friday described the crimes as horrendous, noting Elsheikh's involvement in the sexual abuse of Mueller, his decision to provide false testimony to law enforcement and his role as a leader of the group.
Due to a prior agreement with the United Kingdom, neither Elsheikh nor Kotey faced the death penalty. Another member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a drone strike in Syria in 2016. A fourth member, Aine Lesley Davis, was arrested in Turkey and extradited earlier this year to the United Kingdom to face terrorism charges.
Following the sentencing, Elsheikh immediately filed an appeal with the court citing ineffective council. Ellis rebutted to the defense, "I think you have been diligent."
Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, addressed Elsheikh directly during her testimony Friday, saying, "Love is so much stronger than hatred. I pity you Elsheikh."
She told reporters Friday that more than 67 U.S. nationals are currently detained and held hostage abroad.
Foley said in an appeal to President Joe Biden, "I urgently call on our President Biden to employ our shrewdest negotiation to quickly bring these innocent Americans home, lest they die in captivity as our sons and daughter did."
After the death of her son, Foley founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for Americans that have been held hostage abroad and promotes the safety of journalists worldwide.
She added, "Let this sentencing make clear to all who dared to kidnap, torture or kill any American citizen abroad. That U.S. justice will find you wherever you are, and that our government will hold you accountable for your crimes against our citizens."
Marsha and Carl Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller, told reporters Friday that they have not given up looking for their daughter's remains. The couple is working with private entities to try to find Kayla and learn exactly what happened to their daughter. They told reporters they met with FBI Director Christopher Wray who told them, "we are not going to stop until we find Kayla."
The 26-year-old was on a humanitarian mission in Turkey in August 2013 when ISIS kidnapped her after she crossed the Syrian border to visit a hospital. In February 2015, U.S. officials confirmed that she died while in ISIS custody.
Elsheikh declined to speak at Friday's sentencing. Marsha Mueller told reporters, "I was hoping he would be but I wasn't shocked that he is going to appeal."
Carl Mueller said of Elsheikh, "He's obviously cold with no remorse throughout the whole trial and I still think he believes he was doing the right thing."
Both families said they met with Kotey. Marsha Mueller told reporters Kotey" did articulate some remorse" and that she was grateful for that.
Foley stressed the need for the government to act swiftly in cases in cases where Americans are held, to avoid making the process of bringing them home more complicated.
Carl Mueller had tough words for the Obama administration who he said had "every opportunity to bring [Kayla] home" during the 18 months she was reportedly held captive.
"They definitely have learned their lesson and our children was the cost of that and hopefully, in the future, our government will do like so many others did, and get their people home. Not leave them in there for 18 months."