If Peter Kassig was true to his word, the only thought running through his mind as he was beheaded by Islamic State terrorists was how much his parents loved him. Ed Kassig, the father of the US aid worker who was taken hostage in Syria in 2013 and killed a year later, read Wednesday from a handwritten letter, delivered to him by a freed hostage, during the sixth day of the terrorism trial of 33-year-old jihadi El Shafee Elsheikh in Alexandria, Va. Prosecutors believe Elsheikh to be a member of the ISIS "Beatles" who played a leading role in the scheme to abduct and kill Westerners, including Kassig, fellow US aid worker Kayla Mueller, and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
"Part of me still has hope. Part of me is sure I'm going to die," Peter Kassig wrote to his father in May 2014, per the Guardian. He noted his captors tried to convince hostages that their families and countries had abandoned them. "But of course we know you are doing everything you can and more," Kassig wrote. "Don't worry, Dad, if I do go down I won't go thinking anything but what I know to be true, that you and Mom love me more than the moon!" He added he would take some comfort in knowing that his death came "as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need." "The testimony left many in the courtroom fighting back tears," per the Guardian.
Nicolas Henin, a French journalist and hostage released in 2014, described how he was strung up by his wrists, then left in a cell for 11 days with his wrists chained to his ankles after he escaped a desert prison in Syria and was recaptured. Henin's knowledge of the site led to a rescue attempt in July 2014, by which time the other hostages had been moved. But photos of the site shown in court included weapons and iron restraints. "And you can see the word Kayla—K-A-Y-L-A—scratched on the wall," FBI agent Dan Story testified Wednesday, per the Guardian, drawing "an involuntary murmur" from the crowd. Kayla Mueller was raped by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before her death. Her mother testified Tuesday that she'd begged for her daughter's life in emails to captors, per the BBC.
Story couldn't say whether forensic evidence linked Elsheikh to the prison. Elsheikh's lawyers say he's not who prosecutors believe him to be. None of the former hostages who testified could conclusively identify him as the man they called "Ringo," per the Guardian. All captors reportedly wore masks in the company of hostages. Alexanda Amon Kotey, a "Beatles" member who was captured alongside Elsheikh in Syria in January 2018, then turned over to US forces in Iraq in October 2020, pleaded guilty in September. Of the other "Beatles" members, Aine Davis is imprisoned for terrorism in Turkey, while Mohammed Emwazi, aka "Jihadi John," died in a drone strike in 2015. (Read more Islamic State stories.)