Marquette alumnus killed by terror group, man sentenced

El Shafee Elsheikh; James Foley

El Shafee Elsheikh was formally sentenced to life in prison Friday, Aug. 19 for a leading role in the beheading deaths of American hostages – including Marquette University alumnus James Foley.

Elsheikh, one of the men from a terror cell referred to as "The Beatles," stood trial for killing Foley and three other Americans in Syria. A U.S. federal jury convicted him on April 14.

Foley studied at Marquette before he became an international journalist. He was working as a freelance journalist in Syria when he was captured by members of the Islamic State. He was tortured and beaten for two years before he was killed in August 2014.

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Elsheikh is the most notorious and highest-ranking member of the Islamic State group to ever be convicted in a U.S. court, prosecutors said at his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Elsheikh and British counterparts Alexanda Kotey and Mohammed Emwazi led an Islamic State hostage-taking scheme that took roughly two dozen Westerners captive a decade ago. The hostages dubbed them Beatles because of their accents. Their appearance, always in masks, invoked dread among the hostages for the sadism they displayed.

James Foley

The U.S. agreed not to pursue a death sentence as part of a deal that ensured extradition of Elsheikh and his friend, Kotey, who has already been sentenced to life. Emwazi was killed in a drone strike.

The convictions revolved around the deaths of four American hostages: Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller. All but Mueller were executed in videotaped beheadings circulated online. Mueller was forced into slavery and raped multiple times by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before she was killed.

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Foley's mother, Diane Foley, said holding Elsheikh accountable at trial sends a message of deterrence to other would-be hostage takers.

"Hatred truly overwhelmed your humanity," she told Elsheikh on Aug. 19, which was the eighth anniversary of James Foley's beheading.

James Foley

Diane Foley said she met with Kotey three different times, and it was beneficial to her.

"I was able to share some of who Jim was and he was able to share some of why he felt it was a war situation and his excuses," Foley said. "But he did articulate some remorse and I was grateful for that."

The Associated Press' Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.