The trial of former British national El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, continued on Tuesday
The mother of a slain United States aid worker became emotional as she described in court on Tuesday how she and her husband pleaded for mercy in a video message to the head of ISIS.
In her testimony during the trial of former British national El Shafee Elsheikh, 33 – an accused ISIS terrorist – Marsha Mueller recounted how she and her husband tried for years to save their daughter, Kayla, who had been kidnapped by the terrorist group while she was on a trip with her boyfriend to the Syrian city of Aleppo in August 2013.
Kayla was later forced to marry ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who raped her. She was then murdered in February 2015 at the age of 26.
The jihadis had reportedly demanded 5 million euros – or about $5.4 million – for Kayla’s release, Mueller testified on Tuesday, but because they did not have that kind of money, she and her husband desperately tried for years to plead with the leaders of the terrorist group for her safe return.
At one point, she said, she and her husband even sent a video message to al-Baghdadi, in which Mrs. Mueller pleaded: ‘I am coming to you with a mother’s heart for the love of her daughter.
‘Kayla is not your enemy,’ she continued in the video, which was shown to a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, where Elsheikh stands accused of torturing and killing four Americans in Syria. ‘I ask from her mother’s heart that you show your mercy and release our daughter.’
Elsheikh, 33, is accused of involvement in the murders of Kayla, as well as aid worker Peter Kassig and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
He has been linked to at least 27 abductions, prosecutors claim, but he has denied the abduction and conspiracy to murder charges.
Carl Mueller, center, and Marsha Mueller, right, parents of Kayla Mueller who was killed by Islamic State militants, depart for a break at the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday
Marsha Mueller, left, had described in court how she and Carl, right, pleaded with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for their daughter’s safe return
As part of the trial in Alexandria, Virginia, Marsha was asked on Tuesday to verify emails between her family and Kayla’s kidnappers.
The first email, according to the Independent, came from Kayla’s kidnappers on May 23, 2013 and said, ‘We do not want to harm her. She is like a guest with us at the moment.’
Marsha said she was at first relieved that the kidnappers reached out because it meant they could start negotiations to get her back.
She and her husband, Carl, then worked with the FBI to craft responses to the terrorist organization, the Independent reports, with the FBI telling them that all emails should be signed by Carl as the terrorists would show him more respect.
The Obama administration had reportedly reassured their family that ‘IS won’t harm a woman’.
Soon, Marsha said, the kidnappers demanded the large sum of money, or the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national who is now serving an 86-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2010 of trying to shoot US military officers while she was in Afghanistan.
Marsha testified that she and her husband replied: ‘We are a family of modest means, and are concerned because you are asking for a great deal of money that is more than we could earn in several lifetimes.’
They also reportedly told the captors that they had no influence on the American government to force Siddiqui’s release, but Kayla’s captors simply wrote back ‘get back to work,’ the BBC reported.
By July 12, 2014, the emails – which were shown in court on Tuesday – reveal, ISIS gave the Muellers just 30 days to come up with the money or secure Siddiqui’s release.
‘If you fail to meet this deadline, we will send you a picture of Kayla’s dead body,’ they wrote.
At that point, Marsha said, she decided all future emails should be signed by both her and her husband.
‘I told the negotiators I was going to write something myself,’ she said in court. ‘Because I’m Kayla’s mom. I felt I needed to sign it.’
From then on, the family reportedly made repeated pleas to the kidnappers, ultimately sending the video message on September 16, 2014.
But by February 2015, Marsha testified, she and her husband began to hear reports that their daughter had been killed.
They then emailed the terrorist group asking for confirmation, to which they responded: ‘The news regarding your daughter’s death is indeed true.’
The terrorists allegedly claimed the Jordanian air force bombed a house where Kayla was staying – but prosecutors have called that into question given ISIS’ history of executing American hostages.
The email also included photos of Kayla’s body, which Marsha was forced to describe to the jury.
Her heartbreaking testimony followed that of Kayla’s ex-boyfriend Rodwan Safarjalani, a Syrian national who was kidnapped along with Kayla in 2013. He said they were separated, and he was held intermittently by ISIS as he tried to find Kayla.
According to Washington Post reporter Rachel Weiner, Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III warned Alkhani but declined to ban him from the court, explaining: ‘It was not a threat, it was a prediction.’
In this file photo taken on March 30, Diane and John Foley, the parents of James Foley, a US journalist slain by Islamic State militants, return to the Alexandria federal court house
James Foley (left) and Kayla Mueller (right) were both killed after being taken hostage by the ISIS ‘Beatles’, a cell of several jihadist fighters with British accents
Marsha’s testimony comes a day after James Foley’s mother testified that she initially hoped reports her son had been executed were ‘some cruel joke.’
‘I didn’t want to believe it,’ Diane Foley testified at the trial on Monday.
‘It just seemed too horrific,’ Foley said. ‘I was hoping it was just some cruel joke.’
Foley said it sank in later that day when US president Barack Obama went on television to confirm that James had indeed been executed by his IS captors.
Diane Foley, who worked tirelessly to try to obtain her son’s release, said James, a seasoned combat reporter, left for Syria in October 2012 and promised to be back for Christmas.
The family began to worry when he did not call in November on Thanksgiving.
Bethany Haines, center, the daughter of David Haines, who was slain by Islamic State militants departs for a break from the trial at the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday
‘Jim always called us on the holidays,’ she said. ‘There was a deafening silence when we did not hear from him.’
She said the family was informed by a colleague of James that he had been kidnapped.
‘Those first nine months, we didn’t know if Jim was alive or not,’ she said.
The first tangible proof that James was alive came when his captors provided emailed answers to three questions that only he would know.
The brother of a journalist murdered by ISIS killer Jihadi John has told a terror trial how he watched the clip of his sibling being beheaded ‘once or twice’, saying the footage is ‘burned into my brain’.
James’ brother Michael Foley also testified, saying that he watched the clip of his sibling being beheaded ‘once or twice’, and that the footage is ‘burned into my brain’.
He also said ransom demands made by the terror group in 2012 and 2013 – including 100 million Euros and the release of Islamist prisoners – showed they were never serious about sparing his late brother James. The war photographer was executed in Raqqa, Syria, in August 2014 aged 40, with footage of his murder horrifying the world.
Michael told the hearing in Alexandria: ‘We had no ability to secure either of those demands. It’s not a reasonable demand. It’s not a negotiation, in my mind.’
He went on to say how he’d first learned of his brother’s death after being called for confirmation by reporters, which was finally provided days later by then-President Barack Obama.
Michael said he went online and watched the video of his brother in an orange jumpsuit and the knife-wielding IS executioner known as ‘Jihadi John.’
‘I watched it once or twice,’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen it since but it’s burned into my brain.’
Michael Foley, brother of James Foley, a US journalist slain by Islamic State militants, departs for a break from the trial at the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday
Pictured left: James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. Pictured right: US aid worker Peter Kassig – otherwise known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig – in Syria
Left: US freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. Right: Kayla Mueller is shown after speaking to a group in Prescott, Arizona. Both were killed in Syria by ISIS
Elsheikh is better known as one of ‘the Beatles,’ a nickname he and at least two other Britons were given by their captives because of their accents, with the gang said to have been behind the beheadings of 27 hostages.
Last week, his trial was told of the horrific brutality he allegedly meted out on prisoners, including ‘going away’ batterings for hostages who’d been freed.
Elsheikh is also said to have beaten one hostage 25 times on learning that it was the unnamed captive’s 25th birthday.
Elsheikh and a longtime friend, Alexenda Kotey, were captured together and brought to Virginia to face trial.
Kotey pleaded guilty last year in a plea bargain that calls for a life sentence. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 29.
Elsheikh is pictured, right, with ISIS Beatle Alexander Kotey, left, who struck a plea bargain last year in return for life behind bars
The fourth suspected ‘Beatle’, Aine Davis, is pictured in 2014. He is currently serving a prison sentence at a Turkish jail
A third Beatle, Mohammed Emwazi, served as executioner in the video of Foley’s execution. Emwazi was killed in a drone strike in November 2015, and was the face and voice of some of ISIS’s most horrific execution videos.
There have been conflicting statements during the trial about the existence of a fourth Beatle.
An individual previously identified in public discussion as a fourth Beatle, Aine Davis, is serving a prison sentence in Turkey.
Defense lawyers have highlighted the discrepancies over the Beatles’ identities, and say there is insufficient evidence to prove Elsheikh was one of the Beatles who participated in the hostage-taking scheme.
Prosecutors, though, plan to present evidence later in the trial that Elsheikh confessed to his role under questioning from interrogators and in media interviews.