United States: when a cruel IS “Beatles” drops the mask


En taking the witness stand in an American court, several former hostages of the Islamic State (IS) group stared insistently at the accused: for the first time, they saw the features of one of their probable jailers and executioners.

American justice has been organizing for ten days the trial of El Shafee el-Sheikh, a 33-year-old man accused of having been part of a trio of particularly cruel jihadists, nicknamed “the Beatles” by their prisoners because of their accent. British.

Since the start of the trial, eight of their former hostages have paraded before the jurors.

All described in detail the acts of torture inflicted by these cruel “Beatles” or the places of their detention, but none could say precisely what they looked like.

And for good reason: these three men permanently wore a full hood, with a simple slit for their eyes, as well as gloves.

“They are still trying to protect their identity,” French photographer Edouard Elias, hostage from June 2013 to April 2014, told the helm on Friday.

“With the other goalkeepers, I managed to see some details, but not with them. I barely made out a little darker skin…”, he added.

The three men had also established a “rule”: as soon as they entered, “we had to kneel down, with our faces turned towards the wall and not look at them”, said Federico Motka, an Italian humanitarian who spent 14 months in their hands.

The women had to “cover their face” with a scarf, explained Frida Saide, a former employee of Doctors Without Borders, detained for three months.

“They probably thought it would save them from being prosecuted”, commented the former French reporter Nicolas Hénin: “it was probably not such a good idea…”

“A team”

Even without seeing them, the prisoners easily recognized them. “They had a particular way of knocking on our doors”, “we could feel them”, reported Edouard Elias. They were also “better equipped” than the local guards, with their guns and their boots.

But in a trial where the accused has the right to remain silent and to wear civilian clothes, these memories do not weigh heavily.

Unusually, the prosecutors never asked the former hostages if they recognized the man with the large glasses sitting in front of them.

At the end of Federico Motka’s testimony, Judge TS Ellis suggested asking him the question. Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick had to admit that he was not “certain” that his witness was able to answer.

Based on this identification problem, the defense lawyers intend to plead that their client was indeed a jihadist in the ranks of IS but that he was not one of the “Beatles”.

This line of defense will however be hard to hold: El Shafee el-Sheikh was arrested in 2018 by Syrian Kurdish forces with Alexanda Kotey who, accused of having been another of the Beatles, pleaded guilty in September 2020.

Moreover, he gave several interviews after his arrest and admitted to having been “in contact” with several of the Western hostages. However, he tried to blame another member of the trio: Mohammed Emwazi, known as “jihadi John”, killed in a drone attack in 2015.

Again, this argument should be quickly swept away: at the bar, the former hostages all insisted that the “Beatles” formed a united trio. “They knew each other, formed a team,” said Edouard Elias. “They seemed like good friends,” added Frida Saide.

And when it came to torturing their prisoners, no one was left out, although according to Federico Motka “George preferred boxing, John kicking and Ringo was more into hand-to-hand combat”.

09/04/2022 09:04:05 – Alexandria (United States) (AFP) – © 2022 AFP

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