A U.S. judge on Friday imposed a lifetime prison sentence on a member of an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) militant group nicknamed “The Beatles” that beheaded American hostages.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Va., held an emotionally charged sentencing hearing for London-born Alexanda Kotey, 38, who pleaded guilty to murdering U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Kotey’s sentence was a foregone conclusion under a plea deal he entered last year. El Shafee Elsheikh, a second British national who was charged, will be formally sentenced in August and will also receive a life term. The death penalty was not an option under the terms of an agreement that allowed their extradition to the United States.
Kotey was specifically charged with conspiring in the kidnapping and deaths of the four Americans. Three of the hostages were beheaded, their deaths recorded on video and posted on the internet. Mueller’s death, however, remains something of a mystery. The Islamic State said she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, but the U.S. government believes she was killed by ISIS.
The hostages held by Kotey and his fellow militants nicknamed them “The Beatles” for their British accents. The hearing included testimony from victims’ relatives.
Kotey admitted to inflicting torture on hostages, including waterboarding and electric shocks with a stun gun.
‘I lost my faith in God’
Family members described the dread of knowing loved ones were in captivity, and the grief they felt in the aftermath of their deaths.
“I will not hate you,” Kassig’s mother, Paula Kassig, said to Kotey during the hearing. “It would give sadness, pain and bitterness too much power over me. I choose to let my heart be broken open, not broken apart.”
Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that during the ordeal, “I lost my faith in God, and I lost my faith in our government. My government left her there for 18 months. They would not allow us to negotiate.”
He said the trial and prosecution of Kotey and Elsheikh restored his faith in government, prompting tears from the judge.
Kotey to meet with victims’ families
Kotey’s lawyer said during the court hearing that, in an effort to “make amends,” Kotey is meeting with some family members of victims.
Ellis agreed to keep Kotey detained in Alexandria until July and said that arrangement would facilitate those meetings.
Kotey declined to speak at Friday’s hearing, referencing instead a 25-page letter he wrote to the court in advance of sentencing. The letter describes his conversion to Islam at age 19 and expresses some ambivalence about his actions, while also justifying brutality as a response to Western foreign policy.
“In retrospect, I can say that, throughout our endeavours, there were actions we took that demanded moral compromises,” he wrote.
Kotey was a citizen of the United Kingdom, but the British government withdrew his citizenship.
Kotey’s lawyers had asked the judge to make a recommendation that Kotey not be sent to Supermax prison in Colorado known as ADX Florence, home to some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, including the Mexican drug kingpin, El Chapo.
Ellis declined to make any recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons about where Kotey will eventually be sent. That means Kotey is likely heading to ADX Florence, but the federal Bureau of Prisons has yet to determine where to send Kotey.
U.S. authorities have agreed to make their best efforts to transfer him to a prison in the United Kingdom after 15 years.