US

Aid worker taken hostage tells court of ‘intense’ beatings by Islamic State ‘Beatles’

An aid worker taken hostage by Islamic State (IS) with Briton David Haines has told the terror trial of El Shafee Elsheikh, allegedly one of the so-called “IS Beatles”, that he suffered “intense” beatings while being held captive.

Federico Motka endured 14 months of brutality after he and his colleagues were kidnapped near a refugee camp on the Turkish border in 2013.

The Italian relived his ordeal on Thursday at the trial of British national El Shafee Elsheikh, in the US.

Elsheikh is accused of hostage-taking and conspiring to murder journalists and aid workers in Syria.

Prosecutors say he was a member of a terror cell which operated in Iraq and Syria, and whose members were nicknamed “the Beatles” for their British accents.

More than 20 Westerners were allegedly taken hostage by IS between 2012 and 2015, including British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, who were both killed.

Read more: Who are the Islamic State fighters nicknamed ‘The Beatles’?

The cell became famous across the world after releasing videos of the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.

Prosecutors say Elsheikh, 33, who was captured in January 2018, was known by his captives not only for his British accent but for his fondness for brutality even within a terrorist group known for its cruelty.

Mr Motka told the court in Virginia there were at least three Britons in the group of captors, and the hostages nicknamed them “John,” “George” and “Ringo”.

They kept their faces covered, but prosecutors said they were distinguished through their preferences for punishment.

Prosecutors have said in court that Elshiekh was Ringo, who, according to Mr Motka, “liked wrestling”.

He described how “Ringo” put American captive James Foley in a headlock so tight that he passed out.

During the summer of 2013, they were held in a location known as “the box”, Mr Motka said, where he and others endured a lengthy “regime of punishment” that included regular beatings and forced stress positions.

Mr Motka, who was released in May 2014, struggled with his emotions as he described his time in captivity, the longest of any hostage in the group.

Defence lawyers have highlighted the difficulties that hostages have in formally identifying each of their captors because of the masks they wore, covering everything but their eyes.

They also highlighted the apparent discrepancy about the number of Beatles, saying Elsheikh was not a “Beatle” but a simple Islamic State foot soldier.

One member of the group, Alexanda Kotey, who pleaded guilty to the murders of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig last year, will be sentenced next month.

Mohammed Emwazi, who was nicknamed Jihadi John, was killed in a drone strike in Syria at the end of 2015.

Group member Aine Lesley Davis was convicted of terrorism charges in Turkey in 2017.

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