“Jihadi George”, the most brutal of the Islamic State’s Beatles, before American justice

The 33-year-old man is accused of belonging to a cell of foreign fighters of the Islamic State group in Syria.

Jihadist El-Shafi el-Sheikh, who is on trial in the US for his role in the kidnapping and death of Western hostages in Syria, left his captives with the memory of an evil and cruel man who had an advantage over his peers. This 33-year-old man with a long, curly beard is accused of being a member of a cell of foreign fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group, nicknamed “The Beatles” by the prisoners because of the British accent.

Of the four, suspected of capturing at least 27 journalists and humanitarian organizations in Syria between 2012 and 2015, he was “George”. Despite acne and young age, he was “the craziest, the most cruel”remembers Spanish reporter Javier Espinosa, who spent three months under their heel. “He had a deep-seated hatred of the West and Westerners.” Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed “Jihadist John”, made an even bigger impression by appearing dressed all in black and carrying a butcher’s knife in IS propaganda videos. But this jihadist who died in a bombing raid in 2015 “there were only muscles”says the former Spanish hostage in an interview with AFP: “He was George the leader: he decided who would live and who would die.”

El Shafi el-Sheikh was born in 1988 in Sudan and came to the UK as a child. One day he joined a youth program supported by the British Army and became a mechanic. At 21, he married an Ethiopian whom he met while traveling in Canada, but British immigration authorities did not allow his wife to return to the United Kingdom, according to the Counter-Extremism Project website. He quickly merged with radical Islamism. In 2011, he was arrested outside the US Embassy in London for participating in a protest. “against the American crusades”. A year later, he went to Syria with Mohamed Emwazi. According to the indictment, he promptly purchased an AK-47 and fought in the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front before joining ISIS.

“You are next!”

Between 2012 and 2015 he was “one of the leaders of the hostage-taking cell” and went “delivered to physical and psychological abuse” on his prisoners, according to this document. Various forms of torture were applied to the hostages, according to American justice: imitation of drowning, forced fights between them, electric shock to the torso and limbs, deprivation of food and sleep … El Shafi el-Sheikh showed himself especially sadistic: after filming the execution of a Syrian prisoner on in the eyes of a group of European hostages, he rushed at one of them: “You are next!” “George loved to warm up until he couldn’t control himself anymore”said French journalist Nicolas Henin after his release.

In January 2018, the jihadist was captured by Syrian Kurdish forces along with Alexandra Koteya, nicknamed “Ringo”. Before they were handed over to US troops and sent to Iraq, the two men gave several interviews to foreign media. The video interview is still online on the site washington postEl Shafi el-Sheikh admits that “interacted” with several foreign hostages, whose names he names, and without presenting “compassion” to them. However, he describes himself as “subordinate, not leader”who had the task of recovering the email addresses of their relatives in order to negotiate a ransom, but not to interrogate them. With regard to the violence attributed to him, “it doesn’t make any sense”he swears.

In 2020, two men stripped of their British citizenship were transferred from Iraq to the United States after Washington promised not to seek the death penalty from them. Alexandra Kotey has since pleaded guilty, hoping to serve part of her sentence in the UK. El Shafi el-Sheikh claims he is innocent. The jury will decide in about a month.

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