A US judge on Friday sentenced to life in prison a member of an Islamic State (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militant group nicknamed “The Beatles” who beheaded American hostages.
US District Judge TS Ellis in Alexandria, Va., held an emotionally charged hearing for London-born Alexanda Kotey, 38, who pleaded guilty to murdering US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Kotey’s sentence was inescapable as part of a plea deal he reached last year. El Shafee Elsheikh, a second British national who has been charged, will be formally sentenced in August and will also receive a life sentence. The death penalty was not an option under an agreement that allowed their extradition to the United States.
Kotey was specifically charged with conspiracy in the kidnapping and death of the four Americans. Three of the hostages were beheaded, their deaths videotaped and posted on the internet. Mueller’s death, however, remains a mystery. Islamic State said she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, but the US government believes she was killed by Islamic State.
Hostages held by Kotey and his fellow activists nicknamed them “The Beatles” for their British accents. The hearing included testimony from relatives of the victims.
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 fear of knowing that loved ones were in captivity and the grief they felt over their deaths.
“I won’t hate you,” Kassig’s mother, Paula Kassig, told Kotey during the hearing. “It would give sadness, pain and bitterness too much power over me. I choose to let my heart break, not break.”
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 had restored his faith in the government, bringing tears to the judge.
Kotey will meet with the families of the victims
Kotey’s attorney said during the hearing that, in an effort to “make amends,” Kotey was meeting with some of the victims’ family members.
Ellis agreed to keep Kotey detained in Alexandria until July and said the arrangement would facilitate those meetings.
Kotey declined to speak at Friday’s hearing, instead referring to a 25-page letter he wrote in court before sentencing. The letter describes his conversion to Islam at the age of 19 and expresses some ambivalence about his actions, while justifying the brutality in response to Western foreign policy.
“In retrospect, I can say that, throughout our efforts, there were actions we took that required moral compromises,” he wrote.
Kotey was a citizen of the United Kingdom, but the British government stripped him of his citizenship.
Kotey’s lawyers had asked the judge to recommend that Kotey not be sent to Colorado’s Supermax prison known as ADX Florence, which houses some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, including the Mexican ringleader of the drugs, El Chapo.
Ellis declined to make recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons on where Kotey will eventually be sent. This means Kotey is likely heading to ADX Florence, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons has yet to determine where to send Kotey.
US authorities have agreed to do their best to transfer him to a UK prison after 15 years.