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El Shafee Elsheikh, a 33-year-old former British national – he had his citizenship stripped – is on trial in Virginia accused of involvement in the killing of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. His lawyers say it is a case of mistaken identity
A French journalist held by the Islamic State in Syria testified on Wednesday that he and other hostages were forced by their captors to sing a depraved parody of the Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ called ‘Hotel Osama.’
‘It was terrifying for us, a joke for them,’ Nicolas Henin said at the trial of El Shafee Elsheikh, a 33-year-old former British national.
Elsheikh is accused of involvement in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Henin is one of several former hostages who have testified at the trial in federal court of the alleged member of the notorious IS kidnap-and-murder cell known as the ‘Beatles.’
Henin said the words to ‘Hotel Osama’ included the original lyrics from ‘Hotel California’ about checking in but never leaving, but with a twist.
‘If you try, you’ll die Mr Bigley style,’ the lyrics went – a reference to British engineer Kenneth Bigley, who was beheaded in 2004 by Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, head of the Al-Qaeda terror network in Iraq.
Henin said he was captured in June 2013 on his fifth reporting trip to Syria.
On Thursday, a former Doctors Without Borders (MSF) worker held for three months testified to the particularly brutal treatment meted out to American and British hostages.
Frida Saide, a Swede, revealed details of her captivity on the seventh day of the trial.
Saide said she arrived in Syria in November 2013 to work as a hospital administrator and lived in a house with nine international colleagues.
Swedish aid worker Frida Saide (left) and French journalist Nicolas Henin were captured by ISIS in Syria and held hostage
The testimony came in the trial of El Shafee Elsheikh, 33 (pictured in a court room sketch on April 1) and ‘The Beatles’ – so-called because they were all from the UK – who are said to have captured 26 hostages between 2012 and 2015 in Syria
Kayla Mueller (pictured) was kidnapped by ISIS terrorists while on a trip to Syria with her boyfriend in 2013. She was later forced to marry the terrorist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Carl Mueller, the father of hostage Kayla Mueller, is pictured at court on Thursday
Kassig, 26, – otherwise known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig – in Syria wrote a letter to his father shortly before his death. The letter was read out in court on Wednesday
Kassig was murdered in October 2014 by ISIS fighters in Syria
She and four other MSF workers – two women and two men – were seized by a group of armed men on January 2, 2014, she told the court.
‘I went to take a shower,’ Saide said.
‘I could hear loud voices from outside.
‘I thought it was our guards, then realized we were attacked.’
She said a masked man broke down the door, threw her some clothes and took her outside, where she was blindfolded, handcuffed and put into a vehicle.
For the first month, Saide said she and her MSF colleagues were moved among various prisons and placed with other Westerners taken hostage by IS.
She said that on January 31, 2014, three British guards arrived – the so-called ‘Beatles’ – and ‘that completely changed everything.’
She said some of the male prisoners who had been held and tortured by the ‘Beatles’ described them as ‘social psychopaths with no moral boundaries.’
‘We realized soon it was an accurate description,’ she said.
‘They were very aggressive towards us, very hateful,’ she said.
‘They treated Americans the worst and then the British,’ she said. ‘But they hated all of us.’
Foley and Kassig were singled out for particularly harsh treatment.
Henin was held alone for two days in a bathroom but managed to escape by breaking bars on the windows with a broom.
After running the whole night, he arrived at a village at dawn and spoke to two men in pyjamas.
‘Unfortunately they were IS fighters,’ he said.
Returned to captivity, he was beaten and taken outside and ‘hung in the air for a couple of hours’ with his hands and feet chained together.
Henin was later placed with other hostages including Frenchman Pierre Torres and Danish photographer Daniel Rye Ottenson.
Released French hostages speak to the media upon their arrival at the Villacoublay military airbase on April 20, 2014 in Paris. From left: Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin, Pierre Torres
Diane and John Foley, the parents of James Foley, an American journalist murdered by Islamic State militants, are seen at the trial last week
Michael Foley, brother of James Foley, departs for a break from the trial at the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday
James Foley is pictured while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria
British aid worker David Haines and Italian relief worker Federico Motka arrived later.
After being taken to another prison, three guards arrived one day speaking with British accents.
Haines and Motka told the other hostages they were the ‘Beatles,’ Henin said, using the nickname given to the jihadist jailers because of their British accents.
‘They were terrified,’ he said of Haines and Motka. ‘Shaking.’
They were later joined by Sotloff, Foley, John Cantlie, a British journalist captured with Foley, Toni Neukirch, a German citizen, and five Doctors Without Borders (MSF) workers.
He said the Beatles would come around once or twice a week, ‘sometimes for a round of beatings.’
After his release in April 2014, Henin provided the authorities with information that was used in a rescue attempt.
‘I spent a long time with agencies, describing the location, giving details to the person in charge of preparing the raid,’ Henin said.
Alexanda Kotey and Shafee Elsheikh, in these undated handout pictures in Amouda, Syria released on February 9, 2018. The pair had been captured the month before. Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and is facing life in prison
The fourth suspected ‘Beatle’, Aine Davis, is pictured in 2014. He is currently serving a prison sentence at a Turkish jail
Left: US freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. Right: Kayla Mueller is shown after speaking to a group in Prescott, Arizona. Both were killed in Syria by ISIS
Marsha Mueller, right, the mother of American aid worker Kayla Mueller, is pictured on Wednesday outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia
The US-led rescue mission was launched on July 4, 2014 but the hostages had been taken elsewhere just days earlier.
‘They had been moved prior to the operation,’ said Robert Daniel Story, an FBI special agent who was involved in preparations for the raid and took the witness stand after Henin.
‘We were very disappointed,’ Story said.
The ‘Beatles’ held at least 27 foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015.
A number of European journalists and aid workers were released after ransoms were paid but the Americans – Foley, Sotloff and Kassig – were killed and videos of their murders released by IS for propaganda purposes.
Mueller was reportedly handed over to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who allegedly raped her repeatedly before killing her.
Elsheikh and another former British national, Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria.
They were turned over to US forces in Iraq and flown to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and is facing life in prison.
‘Beatles’ executioner Mohamed Emwazi was killed by a US drone in Syria in 2015, while the fourth member of the cell, Aine Davis, is imprisoned in Turkey after being convicted of terrorism.
Elsheikh has denied the charges, and his lawyers claim his arrest is a case of mistaken identity.
The ISIS Beatles, including Jihadi John, the ringleader who shared beheading videos online and killed innocent British aid workers
Mohammed Emwazi – Jihadi John
Emwazi was one of the most prominent members of the so-called ISIS Beatles and was regularly seen carrying out executions in their horrific beheading videos.
He took part in the barbaric beheadings of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and US humanitarian worker Peter Kassig.
The terrorist, who was born in Kuwait and grew up in Queen’s Park, West London, was charged with 27 counts of murder and five counts of hostage taking in November 2014.
He was killed in a Hellfire missile drone strike in Syria in 2015.
Aine Lesley Davis – Paul
Davis was born Aine Leslie Junior Davis in 1984 to Fay Rodriquez, and is believed to have spent the early years of his childhood in Hammersmith, London, where his mother lived.
He was one of 13 children his father had by four different women.
The former tube driver, who has drug-dealing and firearms convictions to his name, converted to Islam while in prison.
In 2014 his wife, Amal el-Wahabi, was convicted of funding terrorism after she persuaded a friend to try and smuggle £16,000 ($21,000) in cash in her underwear to him.
Davis was captured by Turkish security officials in 2015 and was later found guilty of being a senior member of a terrorist organization and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
Alexanda Kotey – George
Kotey, 38, was born to a Ghanaian father and a Greek Cypriot mother and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush, London.
Before his radicalization, he is thought to have worked as a drug dealer before converting to Islam in his early 20s.
In 2012, he left for Syria where the US claims he was involved in beheadings and known for administering ‘exceptionally cruel torture methods’, including electronic shocks.
He is also accused of acting as an ISIS recruiter who convinced a number of other British extremists to join the terror group.
Kotey was captured in Syria while trying to escape to Turkey in 2018 and was held in a US military center in Iraq.
The British Government wanted him tried in the US, where officials believe there is a more realistic chance of prosecution than in the UK.
He was extradited last year and was charged with a number of terror offenses.
El Shafee Elsheikh
El Shafee Elsheikh – Ringo
Born in Sudan, Elsheikh, 33, grew up in West London and is the final member of the four British terrorists who fled to join ISIS.
He has been linked to the killings of a number of hostages after heading to Syria to join the extremist group.
He was captured along with Kotey when they tried to flee to Turkey in 2018 and has since been transported to the US where he now faces charges relating to terrorism and beheading Western hostages.