Gruesome photos of severed heads impaled on poles were found by UK police on the mobile phone of a man alleged to be part of a notorious Daesh cell responsible for hostage-taking, a US court has heard.
El Shafee Elsheikh, accused of being a member of the Daesh terror cell dubbed the “Beatles” over their distinctive British accents, was pictured on the device wearing military gear.
Elsheikh, 33, denies eight charges relating to the kidnap, detention, and death of four US citizens: James Foley, 40, Steven Sotloff, 32, Peter Kassig, 26, and Kayla Mueller, 26.
His lawyer rejects the idea that his client was part of the “Beatles,” instead suggesting that he was just a “simple Daesh fighter.”
The gang is also thought to be responsible for the beheading of two British citizens.
Elsheikh faces life in jail if convicted.
The spree of beheadings of foreigners, including journalists and aid workers, brought notoriety to Daesh as it seized swaths of Iraq and Syria during its rise.
The group shocked the world when it widely publicized atrocities committed against Iraqis, Syrians and others. During this period, the so-called “Beatles” made headlines for taking part in filmed executions, with observers and the media picking up on their trademark British accents.
A Metropolitan Police digital forensics expert told the Virginia court that the accused’s brother, Khalid Elsheikh, had been found in London with a phone that had disturbing exchanges with a contact in Syria known as “Kasir.”
Khalid sent a message to Kasir on the encrypted messaging app Telegram saying: “Send me some pics of u in rambo mode.”
Kasir sent a photo in combat gear saying: “This is the only one I have.” The image was identified as Elsheikh by an earlier trial witness.
The court was shown 12 deleted messages, three of which depicted men’s heads on poles, apparently in the aftermath of a battle between Syrian and Daesh fighters.
Khalid wrote: “Go easy sending me the pictures” in case the police “snatch me up.”
He received a voice message from Kasir, who seemed worried that the messages would be intercepted, declaring: “For the record’s sake I did not take them pictures, I have no knowledge how those pictures were taken … I am totally innocent of any crimes.”
The court also heard from Michael Foley, the brother of murdered journalist James Foley, the first US hostage beheaded by Mohammed Emwazi, otherwise known as “Jihadi John.”
He said that the hostage-takers had sought to trade Foley for either $100 million or the release of Muslim prisoners.
“We had no ability to secure either of those demands,” Foley said. “It’s not a reasonable demand. It’s not a negotiation, in my mind.”
Eight months later, the family received more messages, this time decrying the US for bombing Daesh, and promising retaliation: “The first of which being the blood of your American citizen, James Foley. He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!”
Foley was beheaded within days. His brother said he watched it “once or twice” and has not seen it since, but added that it was “burned into his brain.”
Elsheikh’s trial continues.
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