” I forgive you “. The words of Mike Haines – the brother of murdered British aid worker David Haines – seemed to echo through the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.
The intensity of the moment is palpable, as finally the family members of Western hostages who were brutally tortured and killed by ISIS’s so-called “Beatles” in Syria have spent their day in US court.
One by one, they stand within feet of their loved ones’ murderers and come to a microphone to read searing and heartfelt victim statements.
Alexanda Kotey, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, sits and listens in a green prison jumpsuit, flanked by her defense team.
El Shafee Elsheikh, recently sentenced, is seated opposite him.
ISIS ‘Beatle’ Alexanda Kotey sentenced to life for role in torture and murder of Western hostages
“Look at me,” Shirley Sotloff asks the two men, as she prepares to read her speech dedicated to her son, journalist Steven Sotloff, who was killed at the hands of Kotey and Elsheikh in 2014.
“Steven’s life taken so brutally is beyond comprehension…you destroyed our lives,” she told them.
Many family members find it difficult to cry when they address the court.
Perhaps the most distressing moment comes when Athea Haines, the daughter of aid worker David Haines, breaks down on the microphone.
“I lost my father when I was four,” she says, “it’s not easy being that kid at school whose father was killed by terrorists.”
Martha Mueller, mother of slain aid worker Kayla Mueller, can’t look at Kotey or Elsheikh.
“I wake up several times a night thinking about her,” she said in 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 said. “We’re not looking for revenge, just the truth. »
Many of these family members do not know what happened to their loved ones in their final moments, or where their remains are.
Many of them speak of suffering from insomnia, heightened anxiety and PTSD, but in their remarkably moving statements, many of them also speak of hope, unity and forgiveness.
“I choose to let my heart break and not break,” says Paula Kassig, remembering her son, aid worker Peter Kassig.
For these families, today was not just the day Alexanda Kotey was sentenced to life in prison, it was the end of a nearly decade-long ordeal to bring the killers of their loved ones to justice.