El Shafee Elsheikh, a British Isis fighter on trial in the US, gave “going-away beatings” to hostages, the prosecution claimed as the jihadist faced a federal court for his role in the kidnap and murder of four Americans.
London-born Elsheikh is accused of being part of a cell that kept more than 20 hostages between 2012 and 2015. He is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia.
The court heard that he and alleged co-conspirators Alexanda Kotey and Mohammed Emwazi – an executioner better known as “Jihadi John” – formed a group known by their prisoners as “The Beatles” due in part to their British accents.
Prosecutor John Gibbs said Elsheikh was known as “Ringo” and hostages remembered him for his unusual penchant for brutality even within a terrorist group known for being cruel.
Mr Gibbs said interviews given by Elsheikh after his capture in 2018 in which he admitted to beatings will be aired.
Surviving hostages will testify that Elsheikh and his British partners were more likely than day-to-day guards to hand out beatings, according to the prosecutor.
The three even gave “going-away beatings” to hostages about to be released after paying a ransom, Mr Gibbs said.
When Elsheikh and the others learned that a European hostage was marking his 25th birthday, they made sure to hit him exactly 25 times, Mr Gibbs said.
The prosecutor referred only to three British nationals while public discussion has usually recognized a fourth “Beatle” in Aine Davis, who is serving a prison sentence in Turkey on terrorism charges.
Emwazi was killed in a drone strike in 2015, and Kotey was captured alongside Elsheikh and also brought to Virginia to face trial. Kotey pleaded guilty last year in a plea bargain that calls for a life sentence.
Elsheikh is the most high-profile Isis member to face a trial, and the proceedings may shed some light on the inner workings of the terror group.
He is charged with the killing of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. The indictment also holds him responsible for the deaths of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
The trial is expected to last four weeks and hear testimony from more than 30 witnesses — some of them former captives of the group.
Mr Gibbs said interviews given by Elsheikh to the FBI, Department of Defense and the media after his capture in 2018 would be used against him.
Elsheikh admitted he was an Isis fighter who oversaw western hostages. He also admitted to beating the hostages and being involved in ransom demands.
Edward MacMahon, defending, said his client made statements during his captivity because he feared for his life, and that evidence of what he told journalists would be shown to be inconsistent.
The defense accepts Elsheikh was involved with Isis but denies he was a member of “The Beatles” and has claimed a case of mistaken identity.
Additional reporting by Associated Press