ISIS hostage tells court he tried to kill himself while in captivity

‘I know how it feels when you’d rather be dead than alive.’ Danish hostage recalls watching ISIS ‘Beatle’ decapitate American James Foley – as prosecutors rest their case and British jihadist refuses to testify

  • Danish photographer, Daniel Rye Ottosen became the 12th freed hostage to take the stand at alleged British jihadist El Shafee Elsheikh’s trial Tuesday 
  • Ottosen was taken captive by ISIS militants just one day after crossing the Syrian border at Killis on May 17, 2013
  • He told the court he was held at ‘The Torture Center’ a place where the treatment was so brutal he attempted suicide with the chain by which he was tethered 
  • ‘I stood there for some time [then] I jumped as high as I could. I remember I lost consciousness and that was some kind of relief,’ Ottosen told the court 
  • He also recalled watching notorious video of  ISIS Beatle Mohammed Emwazi, ‘Jihadi John,’ beheading American journalist James Foley
  • ‘I remember I felt happy for James that now nobody could hurt him. He somehow found that place and I knew, myself, how it feels when you would rather be dead than alive’ 
  • After prosecutors rested their case later Tuesday afternoon, Elsheikh told the judge that he did not wish to testify in his defense 
  • Elsheikh, 33, who is accused of participating in an ISIS torture cell responsible for the deaths of four Americans 

The British national on trial for his alleged role as one of the so-called Islamic State ‘Beatles’ involved in mass hostage taking and multiple murders, including the deaths of four American hostages three Brits, will not take the stand in his own defense.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, informed Judge TS Ellis III of his decision directly after the prosecution rested, ending a case that has lasted more than two weeks and included testimony from a dozen former hostages.

Jurors were not in the room to witness Elsheikh step up to the podium and remove his mask for the first and only time in the day’s proceedings.

Thin and bearded, with dark rimmed glasses and his hair neatly slicked back, he wore a blue dress shirt and khaki trousers. 

He spoke softly and raised his right hand half-heartedly as he opted to confirm his truthfulness rather than swear his oath on the bible.

He acknowledged that he understood his rights and that he was making his decision having sought guidance from his attorneys.

‘Do you wish to testify?’ the judge concluded. ‘I do not,’ Elsheikh replied.

Elsheikh’s decision came at the end of lengthy testimony from former hostage, Danish photographer Daniel Rye Otteson. 

Danish photographer, Daniel Rye Ottosen became the 12th freed hostage to take the stand at alleged British jihadist El Shafee Elsheikh’s trial in Alexandria, Virginia Tuesday. Ottosen (pictured right in captivity) was taken hostage just one day after crossing the Syrian border at Killis on May 17, 2013

Ottosen testified against alleged British jihadist El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, (pictured in a court sketch Monday) who is accused of participating in an ISIS torture cell responsible for the deaths of four Americans

Otteson’s testimony concluded with him recalling the moments of his release and how his captors told him to take one last look at the dwindling group of men with whom he had been held.

He told the court: ‘I had this strange feeling because I knew how it was to sit there with your hands on the wall and I felt ashamed, and I felt so sorry that we didn’t all go together.

‘David Haines is a former military guy, and he was a tough guy before all this [but] at that point I saw his hands were shaking [as he held them aloft] and I will never forget this because I know how afraid he was, and he had good reason to be.’

Elsheikh, 33, is standing trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, on charges including lethal hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit murder 

Later, Otteson was sent the now notorious video of Mohammed Emwazi, ‘Jihadi John,’ beheading American journalist James Foley.

The footage was sent to him by authorities because he had been the last person to see Foley alive and had been asked to identify him.

In a stark admission, Otteson said: ‘Seeing James there with his head between his shoulders did not make me angry or sad. 

‘I remember I felt happy for James that now nobody could hurt him. He somehow found that place and I knew, myself, how it feels when you would rather be dead than alive.’

In fact, Otteson testified, the ‘absolute worst thing’ that happened to him after his release was seeing the image of Steven Sotloff in the same video and realizing that the American had been forced to witness the awful act and the fate that would be his own.

Moments after Otteson concluded his testimony the defense moved to have the charges against Elsheikh dismissed on the grounds that the government had not produced sufficient evidence to prove that he was indeed one of the Beatles.

Again, with the jury out of the room, Judge Ellis demolished the bid point by point, working his way through each charge and concluding that there was ‘a mountain of evidence’ by which a ‘reasonable jury’ could conclude beyond reasonable doubt that he was.

The defense’s case lasted barely five minutes and consisted solely of clips of interviews given by Elsheikh before his extradition to the States.

The clips appeared to be an effort to suggest that Elsheikh had only confessed to crimes involving British and American victims to avoid being sent to trial in Iraq where he had been told several ISIS fighters had already been executed.

US Journalist James Wright Foley and ISIS ‘Beatle’ Mohammed Emwazi, aka ‘Jihadi John, are seen in a now notorious video of the hostage’s decapitation in 2014

While working as a freelance war correspondent during the Syrian Civil War, Foley was abducted on November 22, 2012, in northwestern Syria

The prosecution’s rebuttal case was even shorter – just 30 seconds during which they played an excerpt from one of the same interviews, in which Elsheikh dismissed the notion that Iraq had jurisdiction over him or any crimes ‘not committed on their turf.’ 

Ottosen was the 12th released hostage to take the stand in the trial. 

He told a now familiarly harrowing tale of capture, relentless transportation between increasingly brutal locations and the particular brutality of the treatment handed out by British captors known to their victims as ‘The Beatles.’

Elsheikh, who sat furiously scribbling notes on pink post-it pads and passing them to his counsel, stands accused of being a member of this infamous group – dubbed Ringo.

Ottosen was taken captive just one day after crossing the Syrian border at Killis on May 17, 2013. 

He was taken to a place he knew only as ‘The Basement Room’ then ‘The Farmhouse,’ and from there he was moved to ‘The Torture Center’ a place where the treatment was so bad he attempted suicide.

Asked to recall the worst torture he had been forced to endure Ottosen told of a time when, deprived of water for days he was strung up in a room, his hands tied above his head and simply left there. 

Authorities sent footage of Foley’s beheading to Ottosen because he had been the last person to see the American journalist alive and was asked to identify him 

During his testimony Ottosen recalled the worst torture he had been forced to endure, telling the court he was deprived of water for days, strung up in a room with his hands tied above his head

Cut down after 24 hours he collapsed, and when he regained consciousness he was offered two ‘choices’ by his captors; confess to being a spy and be executed but suffer no more, or return to the room in which he was strung up.

He chose the latter where, after many desperate hours he realized he could swing his feet to drag a table closer to where he hung. 

He stood on the table, wrapped the chain by which he was tethered around his neck and jumped as high as he could – determined, he said, to snap his neck.

He told the court: ‘I thought about my mom, my sisters, my girlfriend…loved ones [to have them in my head]. 

‘I stood there for some time [then] I jumped as high as I could. I remember I lost consciousness and that was some kind of relief.

‘At some point I had the feeling that I was flying. I don’t know if that was my soul.’

Then he felt the guards propping him up and cutting him down. 

Proof of life pictures taken some time after the attempt and displayed in court show the marks from the chain, still visible on his neck.

Ottosen told how he first heard of the Beatles from fellow hostages Frederico Motka – who testified last week – and David Haines, the murdered British aid worker.

Ottosen holds the door for Marsha Mueller, center, mother of hostage Kayla Mueller who was killed by Islamic State militants, and other family members and friends as they depart the courthouse for a lunch break

Friends and relatives of the slain US hostages have been seen attending trial proceedings in recent weeks. Pictured: Carl Mueller, the father of victim Kayla Mueller 

Bethany Haines, left, the daughter of David Haines, who was slain by Islamic State militants

Frida Saide, a Swedish aid worker who was held hostage by jihadists, was seen attending Tuesday’s proceedings after taking the stand last week 

He said that when he encountered them in a place they called ‘The Dungeon’ their account of the psychological and physical torture they had endured at the Beatles’ hands made him feel ‘lucky’ to have been in the Torture Center.

He recalled that all the Brits were very careful about shielding their identity – insisting hostages face the wall when they entered the room, wearing masks and telling them that simply looking on their faces would be reason enough to kill them.

Across his time in captivity Ottosen began to know the sound of the car stopping, the tread of the Beatles’ boots and even their perfume as it slipped beneath the door preceding the loud knocks that always announced their arrival and that he came to dread.

He said: ‘Knocks on doors was one of the biggest traumas that I took from Syria.’

Ottosen rapped the witness stand three times, to demonstrate, telling the jury: ‘It was people knocking loudly [that triggered me] because then I knew it was going to get bad.’

Ottosen recalled how the American hostages were singled out for particularly harsh treatment – especially James Foley.

Foley had told him, he said, of a time when he was held with British hostage John Cantlie and had a chance to escape but did not take it. 

Ottosen said: ‘James managed to open a hatch [in the ceiling] and pull himself out. 

‘He had the opportunity to flee but I don’t know if it was heroic or very stupid, but he decided to jump back into the room with John because there was no one [John] could stand on top of and they were not able to flee together.’

Arthur Sotloff, father of hostage Steven Sotloff who was slain by Islamic State militants, arriving at court Tuesday

Victims: Left: US freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. Right: US aide worker Kayla Mueller, 26. Both were killed in Syria by ISIS

Victims: (From left to right): Slain American James Foley covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria in 2012 and US aid worker Peter Kassig – otherwise known as Abdul-Rahman Kassig – in Syria

At times the court heard pieces of media interviews given by Elsheikh in which he confesses to treatment described by Ottosen in court. 

The defense had sought to prevent jurors from seeing such excerpts.

In one striking moment Ottosen recalled how the Beatles brought in a laptop and showed the hostages a picture – it was of fellow hostage Sergei Gorbunov’s head. He had been taken from the cell earlier and told he was being released. 

Instead, he was executed – shot through the eye.

Ottosen’s captors asked him to critique the photography. 

He said: ‘The picture was of a man who five days earlier I played chess against and now I could see it was the head of Sergei and a bullet had passed through his eye.’

On another occasion he and five other hostages were transported to a windy landscape where, he said, Elshiekh stood with a camera and urged: ‘Don’t f*** it up.’

They were forced to hold letters begging for their release and watch as a Syrian prisoner was shot in the back of the head.

Ottosen admitted that, by this stage, he thought that if he was to be executed too, he hoped it would be in the same manner since the man was killed instantly, without suffering.

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 picture displayed in court showed Ottosen and his fellow hostages, standing in the ditch next to the Syrian prisoner’s dead body into which, he testified, the Beatle who had shot him emptied his magazine.

The prosecution is expected to rest this afternoon after calling their two final witnesses.

After two weeks of intense testimony, Judge Ellis on Monday advised Assistant US Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick that additional witnesses may be cumulative and ill-advised.

Elsheikh is charged with the murders of American freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and suspected of the kidnapping of nearly 20 other Westerners.

He has pleaded not guilty, and is not expected to testify at his trial but prosecutors have been using his own words against him.

After his capture, Elsheikh gave interviews to several media outlets and prosecutors have played excerpts from those interviews for the jury. 

His lawyers, meanwhile, have seized on the question of identification in mounting his defense.

In opening arguments, they acknowledged he was an IS jihadist but insisted he was not one of the ‘Beatles’ and it was a case of ‘mistaken identity.’ 

The savage ISIS Beatles, including Jihadi John ringleader who shared beheading videos online and killed innocent British aid workers 

Jihadi John

Mohammed Emwazi – Jihadi John

Emwazi was one of the most prominent members of the so-called ISIS Beatles and was regularly seen carrying out executions in their horrific beheading videos.

He took part in the barbaric beheadings of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and US humanitarian worker Peter Kassig.

The terrorist, who was born in Kuwait and grew up in Queen’s Park, West London, was charged with 27 counts of murder and five counts of hostage taking in November 2014.

He was killed in a Hellfire missile drone strike in Syria in 2015. 

Jihadi Paul

Aine Lesley Davis – Paul

Davis was born Aine Leslie Junior Davis in 1984 to Fay Rodriquez, and is believed to have spent the early years of his childhood in Hammersmith, London, where his mother lived. 

He was one of 13 children his father had by four different women.

The former tube driver, who has drug-dealing and firearms convictions to his name, converted to Islam while in prison.

In 2014 his wife, Amal el-Wahabi, was convicted of funding terrorism after she persuaded a friend to try and smuggle £16,000 ($21,000) in cash in her underwear to him.

Davis was captured by Turkish security officials in 2015 and was later found guilty of being a senior member of a terrorist organization and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

Alexanda Kotey

Alexanda Kotey – George 

Kotey, 38, was born to a Ghanaian father and a Greek Cypriot mother and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

Before his radicalization, he is thought to have worked as a drug dealer before converting to Islam in his early 20s.

In 2012, he left for Syria where the US claims he was involved in beheadings and known for administering ‘exceptionally cruel torture methods’, including electronic shocks.

He is also accused of acting as an ISIS recruiter who convinced a number of other British extremists to join the terror group.

Kotey was captured in Syria while trying to escape to Turkey in 2018 and was held in a US military center in Iraq.

The British Government wanted him tried in the US, where officials believe there is a more realistic chance of prosecution than in the UK. 

He was extradited last year and was charged with a number of terror offenses. He pleaded guilty in September 2021 and was sentnced to life in prison, 15 years of which would be spent in the United States and then he would be transferred to the United Kingdom.

El Shafee Elsheikh

El Shafee Elsheikh – Ringo  

Born in Sudan, Elsheikh, 33, grew up in West London and is the final member of the four British terrorists who fled to join ISIS.

He has been linked to the killings of a number of hostages after heading to Syria to join the extremist group.

He was captured along with Kotey when they tried to flee to Turkey in 2018 and has since been transported to the US where he now faces charges relating to terrorism and beheading Western hostages.

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