Sudanese-born former British national El Shafee Elsheikh joined ISIS and committed atrocities in Iraq and Syria between 2012 and 2015. Elsheikh was personally involved in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of 26 journalists and aid workers, including four Americans. Spared the death penalty by former U.S. Attorney General William Barr so that British prosecutors would cooperate, the Islamic terrorist was ultimately brought to the U.S. to stand trial. He was subsequently given eight life sentences by a U.S. District Court in Virginia on August 19.
Although he was expected to spend the rest of his days in solitary confinement at an American supermax prison, the Daily Mail reported that he has been assigned to a laxer prison where he may be permitted to fraternize with other prisoners. This revelation has stoked outrage as well as fears that the 34-year-old terrorist may radicalize some of the prison population.
The terrorist will reportedly avoid the supermax on account of his lawyers suggesting he has exhibited “signs of mental and physical deterioration from his present and past detention.” The lawyers reportedly cited several instances of prisoner suicides at supermax prison ADX Florence as additional cause for concern.
Research director at the Centre for Crime Prevention David Spencer told the MailOnline, “If it’s special treatment for him and it’s on the grounds of his mental health it looks soft in light of what he’s done and the impact of his horrific actions on his victims and their loved ones.”
Spencer noted that the decision not to confine Elsheikh to the supermax prison where other such terrorists and murderers posing threats to national security are kept demonstrates “a lack of consistency.”
One U.S. prison insider told the Mirror that the victims’ families have no idea how Elsheikh, the highest-profile ISIS fighter to stand trial in the U.S., avoided the supermax prison. “They were sure he was to see out his days at ADX, but they have now been told he has been sent to the lesser penitentiary. It’s a huge kick in the teeth.”
ADX Florence, dubbed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” is America’s highest-security “supermax” prison. Run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, ADX Florence is home to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who committed the Boston Marathon bombing; Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber; Ramzi Yousef, the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing; Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman; and a handful of other terrorists and violent degenerates.
The prison’s 410 or so inmates are confined to single-person 7’x12′ cells for 23 hours a day. In prisoners’ single hour outside their concrete boxes, they are shackled and placed in a concrete ditch, ten steps wide.
ADX Florence inmates eat and sleep alone.
The Islamic hate preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri reportedly begged to be released, clawing on his door to get out. Hamza’s lawyers deemed the prison’s conditions “inhuman and degrading.”
Elsheikh has reportedly been spared internment in ADX Florence, whose “inhuman” conditions are far more humane than those he subjected his victims to. Instead, he will spend his sentence at USP Florence High.
USP Florence High, located on the same site, is home to 638 inmates. Unlike ADX Florence, which is a super-maximum security prison/administrative maximum “control-unit” prison,” Florence High is a high-security federal prison. The prison has visitation, educational program areas, a barbershop, a commissary, a chapel, and an exercise area.
Unlike ADX Florence, Florence High enables interaction among inmates and keeps prisoners in a less restrictive environment.
Raj Parekh, lead prosecutor and first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, had requested that Elsheikh’s punishment reflect the Islamic terror group’s engagement in “the systematic torture and abuse of their victims, ultimately resulting in the horrific deaths of at least eight American, British and Japanese citizens, among others, including gruesome executions that were videotaped and broadcast globally.”
Elsheikh’s captives were tortured in a variety of ways, including waterboarding, mock executions, food deprivation, electric shocks, and prolonged beatings. Some of those who survived the tortures were pitted to fight one another. Many were executed on camera. Videos of their beheadings were widely circulated on social media.
Elsheikh received his guilty verdict for hostage taking and conspiracy to commit murder in April.
Judge T.S. Ellis III said the terrorist’s conduct could only be described as “horrific, barbaric, brutal, callous, and, of course, criminal.”
The radicalization risk
In England, the nation to which Elsheikh had fled as a child refugee, prisons are hotbeds for Islamic extremism and radicalization.
In 2014, former chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick, who had spent time in over 40 jails, said he observed a trend of inmates convicted of terrorism offenses trying to influence and pressure others.
Counterterrorism expert Ian Acheson, tasked with investigating the spread of Islamic extremism, indicated that Islamic hate literature proliferated in prisons. “My team found evidence that jihadist radicalization is such a serious problem inside some of Britain’s jails that it threatens prison legitimacy.”
A number of terror attacks in Britain were executed by criminals who had been radicalized in U.K. prisons.
When the current prime minister of Britain, Liz Truss, then the justice minister, examined the trend, she noted, “We cannot have a situation where we have extremist prisoners influencing others who are vulnerable to those messages.”
Islamists like Anjem Choudary, linked to a network of violent jihadists and brutal slayings, often find a receptive audience behind bars. Choudary, who ultimately was placed in solitary confinement, had radicalized a wave of Muslims and encouraged them to wage jihad.
Former al Qaeda recruiter Jesse Morton claimed in 2016 that “when I was incarcerated for terrorist-related crimes, [radicalization] went on very frequently in general, mainstream or medium or high-security prisons as well.”
While radicalization in prison remains a problem in Britain, the U.S. has by no means been immune.
Former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) acknowledged, “Over the years, our Federal prisons have become a breeding ground for radicalization.”
Prison radicalization expert Mark Hamm, a professor at Indiana State University, told FoxNews.com, “It is not the sheer number of prisoners following extremist interpretations of religious doctrines that poses a threat … Rather, it is the potential for the single individual to become radicalized.”
While not immune to prison radicalization, a 2018 George Washington University policy paper indicated that American prisons like ADX Florence benefit from “isolation strategies.”
Unlike in some European countries that use co-location strategies, in which extremists are concentrated in one facility to lessen the likelihood they will radicalize those who do not already share their views, in certain American prisons, extremists can be locked down and atomized “so that they can neither form ties to other extremists nor radicalize others.”