He said he travelled to Syria to “engage in a military fight against the Syrian forces of Bashar Assad” and that he eventually pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“I accept I will be perceived as a radical who holds extremist views,” he said.
He acknowledged that he had participated in “capture-and-detain operations” to kidnap Foley and other Western hostages and that he led efforts to extract ransoms.
He described the acts of violence that were inflicted on the hostages as a necessary part of keeping them in line and persuading Western governments to pay ransom.
A 24-page indictment includes a lengthy list of acts of torture that Kotey is accused of inflicting on hostages, including electric shocks with a taser, forcing hostages to fight each other and beatings with sticks and waterboarding.
In the years after the hostages had been killed, he said he filled several roles within the Islamic State, including as a sniper and as director of a special forces training camp.
Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said at Thursday’s hearing that Kotey, Elsheikh and Emwazi were all friends at a young age in London, where they became radicalised.
In a statement, Raj Parekh, acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who is also a member of the prosecution team on the Kotey and Elsheikh cases, said the case has always been focused on the victims and their families.
“Their resilience, courage, and perseverance have ensured that terror will never have the last word. The justice, fairness, and humanity that this defendant received in the United States stand in stark contrast to the cruelty, inhumanity, and indiscriminate violence touted by the terrorist organisation he espoused,” Parekh said.
Mueller also was raped by the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to the indictment. Al-Baghdadi was killed by U.S. forces in Syria in 2019.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in Syria in 2018 by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape to Turkey.
Family members of all four victims attended Thursday’s hearing and stood outside the courthouse afterward with prosecutors. They will have an opportunity to speak at Kotey’s formal sentencing on March 4.
James Foley’s mother, Diane, said she was grateful for the conviction and praised prosecutors for obtaining a detailed account of Kotey’s culpability.
“This accountability is essential if our country wants to discourage hostage-taking,” she said. Diane Foley also called on the U.S. government to prioritise the return of all Americans being held abroad.
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