Following the sentencing of El Shafee Elsheikh in the US on Friday, 19 August for grave terrorist crimes involving the torture and murder of a number of hostages taken by Daesh in 2014 and 2015, Commander Richard Smith, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said:
“This is one of the most significant international terrorism cases ever brought to trial. These were some of the most barbaric terrorist acts ever seen, carried out with chilling callousness and brutality.
“This is a time to remember all of the victims – those innocent people who were senselessly killed, and also the surviving hostages who experienced unimaginable horrors at the hands of El Shafee Elsheikh and his co-defendant Alexanda Kotey. They have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.
“I hope that those most affected may take some comfort in knowing that these extremely dangerous men have been brought to justice.”
The Met’s Counter Terrorism Command provided crucial evidence to the US authorities which was used by prosecutors to bring this case to court.
We launched our investigation back in 2012 after John Cantlie, a British freelance journalist, and American photojournalist James Foley, had been kidnapped whilst in northern Syria.
At that early stage, it was not clear to us who might have been behind the kidnappings. In the months that followed, a number of other journalists and aid workers were kidnapped in the same region, including two other UK nationals – David Haines and Alan Henning.
Witness accounts, alongside other information and intelligence gathered, indicated that those involved in detaining hostages were UK nationals, most likely from London, who had travelled to Syria.
It was from that starting point – unknown suspects committing terrorist acts thousands of miles away – that our detectives went about trying to identify who was involved.
The following evidence gathered by the Met’s counter terrorism officers served to strengthen the prosecution cases against both men:
- An early breakthrough came when officers followed up on a piece of information given by several hostages – that one of their captors had talked about being arrested whilst counter-demonstrating at an English Defence League march in London. Officers identified an EDL march which took place on 11 September 2011, and a stabbing that occurred – amongst the group of people arrested in connection with that were El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey. Video taken by an officer showing Elsheikh and Kotey being spoken to by police had been retained, and this was played during the trial.
- By late 2014, officers already strongly suspected that Mohammed Emwazi – also known as “Jihadi John” – was the masked man in a number of propaganda videos released by Daesh, which showed him violently killing hostages.
- Phone evidence gathered by detectives was vital. Data from both Elsheikh and Kotey’s phones which had been seized at the time of the 2011 arrests was reviewed, and showed messages between them and Emwazi. Emwazi’s phone was seized on a different occasion, and that had Elsheikh’s number saved. Evidence obtained by SO15 throughout the investigation showed a clear association between the three men.
- In the cases of Elsheikh and Emwazi, officers utilised voice recordings to make a compelling case that they were part of this group. A police interview tape of Emwazi dating back to 2009 was compared with the voice of the executioner in the Daesh videos – an expert found them to be a match.
- A police interview with Elsheikh from 2009 was compared with a voice message that police had discovered on his brother’s phone – an expert also found this to be a match. This voice message was found years after it was sent, as a result of officers re-analysing a phone seized from his brother as part of an unrelated firearms investigation. That review also yielded images of Elsheikh in Syria.
Met officers and staff – both serving, and retired – travelled to America to give this evidence in person during Elsheikh’s trial earlier this year.
Commander Richard Smith, added: “This was a painstaking investigation, unprecedented in scale, carried out by skilled and determined officers which involved taking tiny fragments of information about these men – gathered from isolated events that occurred years earlier – and piecing them together to paint a compelling picture proving their involvement in terrorist crimes committed in Syria.
“Elsheikh and Kotey thought they were beyond the reach of the law, but they were wrong. I want to acknowledge the huge amount of work prosecutors and law enforcement colleagues in America have done over several years to ensure that justice was achieved for all the victims in this case.
“Tackling terrorism is a truly global effort, and this case was an example of how we work closely with law enforcement and security partners in the US, Europe and elsewhere to stop terrorists operating wherever they are in the world.”