Brother of murdered Briton David Haines tells IS ‘Beatle’ killer: ‘I forgive you’


“I forgive you”. The words of Mike Haines – the brother of murdered British aid worker David Haines – seemed to ring out around the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.

The intensity of the moment is palpable, as finally, the family members of the Western hostages who were brutally tortured and killed by the so-called IS ‘Beatles’ in Syria had their day in an American court.

One-by-one, they stand just feet away from the murderers of their loved ones, and come to a microphone to read out searing, heartfelt victim statements.

Alexanda Kotey, who has pleaded guilty on terror charges, sits and listens in a green prison jumpsuit, flanked by his defence team.

El Shafee Elsheikh, recently convicted, sits across from him.

Alexanda Kotey is already serving time in prison. Pic: PA
Alexanda Kotey has been jailed for life

Read more:
IS ‘Beatle’ Alexanda Kotey jailed for life for his role in torture and killing of Western hostages

“Look at me”, Shirley Sotloff demands of the two men, as she prepares to read out her speech dedicated to her son, the journalist Steven Sotloff, who was killed at the hands of Kotey and Elsheikh in 2014.

More on Islamic State

“Steven’s life being taken so brutally is beyond comprehension… you destroyed our lives,” she tells them.

Steven Sotloff
Journalist Steven Sotloff was killed by the extremist group

Many of the family members struggle through tears as they address the court.

Perhaps the most distressing moment comes when Athea Haines, the daughter of aid worker David Haines, breaks down at the microphone.

“I lost my father at four years old”, she says, “it is not easy to be that kid in school whose dad was killed by terrorists”.

The order of service at Perth Congregational Church following a memorial service to David Haines 2014
Aid worker David Haines was among the victims of Islamic State

Martha Mueller, the mother of killed aid worker Kayla Mueller, can’t look at Kotey or Elsheikh.

“I wake up several times a night thinking of her,” she says through tears. Her husband Carl holds a gentle hand on her shoulder in support.

“We have no idea how many ISIS leaders raped our daughter,” Ms Mueller says. “We’re not seeking revenge, just the truth.”

Karl and Marcia Mueller, parents of slain aid worker Kala Mueller, pictured in 2021
Karl and Marcia Mueller, the parents of Kayla Mueller, pictured in 2021

Many of these family members don’t know what happened to their loved ones in their final moments, or where their remains are.

Many of them talk about suffering from insomnia, increased anxiety, and PTSD, but in their remarkably moving statements, many of them also talk of hope, unity and forgiveness.

“I choose to let my heart be broken open and not broken apart”, says Paula Kassig, as she remembers her son, aid worker Peter Kassig.

For these families, today wasn’t just the day Alexanda Kotey was sentenced to life in prison, it was the end of a near-decade-long ordeal to bring their loved ones’ killers to justice.

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