A jury at the US Federal District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, found a 33-year-old former British citizen, guilty on eight criminal counts including kidnapping, murder and membership in a terrorist organization on Thursday.
The defendant was accused of being a member of an “Islamic State” (IS) jihadist terror cell known as “The Beatles” due to the members’ British accents.
Jurors deliberated for four hours before returning the guilty verdict. The 33-year-old now faces life in prison.
What is ‘IS’? What is ‘Islamic State’? A breakaway from terrorist organization al Qaeda, “Islamic State” is a Sunni militant group that is believed to have formed in response to disillusionment and frustration due to the failed rule of governments in Syria and Iraq. Its flag reads “Muhammad is the prophet of God” and “There is no god apart from Allah” – lines that are valid for all Muslims, not just “IS.”
What is ‘IS’? Where is the ‘Islamic State’ active? The “Islamic State” aims to create a “caliphate” – a state where the traditional values of Islam and Sharia law must be adhered to. Due to the instability of regions in Syria and Iraq, the “Islamic State” has been able to capture land in the two countries.
What is ‘IS’? What makes the ‘Islamic State’ different? A key difference is the brutality “Islamic State” has used to strike fear into its enemies and innocents by cruel beheadings and ruthless violence. In contrast to this, it is said to govern the regions it takes over. As Middle East expert Shadi Hamid told PBS: “They provide social services. They run local government. They provide some modicum of law and order.”
What is ‘IS’? How does ‘Islamic State’ relate to other terrorist groups? Though “IS” is active in Syria and Iraq, the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram recently declared its support. It’s like a competition in cruelty: while Boko Haram is responsible for 13,000 deaths, “IS” has injured or killed at least 24,000 people. Terrorist group al Qaeda has distanced itself from “IS” with its offshoot Nusra Front even fighting against “IS”.
What is ‘IS’? What about its followers? Something else that distinguishes the “IS” is its followers. More than 20,000 foreign fighters have joined the group, with more than 4,000 come from Western Europe and North America, according to an ICSR report. Here are the countries where most people have gone to fight. But, there are more fighters per capita heading to fight from some smaller countries like Sweden and Belgium.
What is ‘IS’? What are Western governments doing to stop ‘Islamic State’? Since August 2014, a US-led coalition has carried out airstrikes on “Islamic State” targets in Syria (1,422 strikes) and Iraq (2,242 strikes), according to a BBC report. Some governments have also been active within their own countries: Germany is set to prosecute at least 30 suspected militants returning from Syria, while Saudi Arabia, for example, arrested 93 suspected militants in April 2015. Author: Louise Osborne
European witnesses recount horrors of captivity
During the eight-day trial, the court heard testimony from a number of witnesses who described the sheer brutality of the group. All of the former hostages who testified were European, as the group executed its US and UK captives.
The guilty verdict came despite the fact that no former hostages could definitively identify the defendant as a “Beatle” because he and the others in the group took care not to show their faces and threatened abuse to those who looked them in the eye.
The 33-year-old was captured along with another former group member in 2018 by Kurdish forces in Syria as the two sought to escape to Turkey. They were eventually turned over to US forces in Iraq and flown to Virginia in late 2020 to stand trial.
Although the two men were said to have conducted electronic ransom negotiations with captives’ families and home countries, the charges the defendant was convicted of related to the grisly murders of four US citizens: journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
The ‘Islamic State’s’ quest to erase history Wiping out heritage ‘Islamic State’ militants ransacked and destroyed statues in a museum in Mosul, in northern Iraq. The idols were believed to be remnants of the ancient Mesopotamian civilization. The jihadis, who have taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria, said their interpretation of Islam calls for the statues and relics to be destroyed. Many Muslim scholars denounced the group.
The ‘Islamic State’s’ quest to erase history ‘A battle for identity’ This is a picture of the ruins of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra, built by the Seleucid Empire which controlled a large part of the then-known ancient world. IS militants were reportedly bringing in bulldozers to raze the ancient city. “Their battle is a battle for identity, to empty the region, primarily Iraq, of its human inheritance,” Iraq’s Tourism Minister Adel Shirshab said.
The ‘Islamic State’s’ quest to erase history The cradle of civilization The militant group’s members also destroyed party of Nineveh, an ancient city in northern Iraq and considered by many Western archaeologists to be the cradle of civilization. “It was expected that [IS] would destroy it,” Tourism Minister Shirshab told journalists. The United Nation has called the destruction a “war crime.”
The ‘Islamic State’s’ quest to erase history Request for international help “The sky is not in the hands of Iraqis…Therefore the international community must move with the means it has,” Iraq’s tourism minister said as he pleaded for air strikes against IS extremists. Baghdad has said that IS fighters were defying “the will of the world and the feelings of humanity.”
The ‘Islamic State’s’ quest to erase history Small sales, big destruction IS militants claim the ancient statues run counter to their radical interpretation of Islam’s tenets that prohibit idol worship. But when fighters aren’t destroying the artifacts, they’re cashing in on them. Experts have said the group is making money in the international market by selling smaller statues from ancient sites while destroying the bulky ones are destroyed.
The ‘Islamic State’s’ quest to erase history A historical comparison Scholars often compare the IS’ destruction of cultural heritage sites to how the Afghan Taliban destroyed ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan statues in 2001. Only a hollow remains where tall statues of the Buddha once stood. But some fear the damage caused by IS militants to the remains of the ancient Mesopotamian civilization, which pioneered agriculture and writing, could be more devastating. Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Cell known for its abuses
Foley, Sotloff and Kassig’s beheadings were video taped and used for “IS” online propaganda films. Mueller was enslaved and given to “Islamic State” leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was said to have repeatedly raped the 26-year-old before she was killed.
The defendant convicted on Thursday is said to have supervised detention facilities and engaged in a “prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages” that included water-boarding, electric shocks and mock executions.
Federico Motka, for instance, recalled a 2013 incident in which he and his cellmate David Hines were locked in a room with Foley and UK hostage John Cantlie and forced to fight each other for hours in what their captors called a “Royal Rumble,” with the losers facing waterboarding.
Watch video 29:13 Close up – Held Captive by IS
All ‘Beatles’ dead or behind bars
In all, the kidnapping and murder cell is thought to have captured at least 26 hostages while operating in Syria between 2012 and 2015. During that time, the militant “Islamic State” terror group controlled large swaths of Syria and Iraq.
In September 2021, another member of the cell pled guilty to involvement in the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and Mueller. The 38-year-old faces life in prison. His plea deal would have him spend the first 15 years imprisoned in the US after which he would be extradited to the UK where he would face further charges.
A third “Beatle” member is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Turkey on terrorism charges with calls for his extradition to stand trial in the UK. Cell leader Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” was killed in a November 2015 US drone strike in Syria.
The conviction on Thursday is the most significant prosecution of an “IS” terrorist by the US justice system.
js/rs (AFP, AP)