A former Doctors Without Borders (MSF) worker held for three months in Syria in 2014 by the Islamic State group testified on Thursday to the particularly brutal treatment meted out to American and British hostages.
Frida Saide, a Swede, revealed details of her captivity on the seventh day of the trial of El Shafee Elsheikh, a former British national who was allegedly one of her IS jailers.
Elsheikh is charged with the murders of American freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and suspected in the kidnapping of nearly 20 other Westerners.
Several former European journalists and Syrian hostages have testified over the past few days at the trial Elsheikh, an alleged member of the notorious IS cell known as the "Beatles" because of some of the members' British accents.
While there has been extensive reporting about the kidnappings of the four Americans and the European journalists, little has been revealed about the abduction of Saide and four other MSF workers.
Saide said she arrived in Syria in November 2013 to work as a hospital administrator and lived in a house with nine international colleagues.
She and four other MSF workers — two women and two men — were seized by a group of armed men on Jan. 2, 2014, she told the court.
"I went to take a shower," Saide said. "I could hear loud voices from outside.
"I thought it was our guards," she said, but she soon "realized we were attacked."
She said a masked man broke down the door, threw her some clothes and took her outside, where she was blindfolded, handcuffed and put into a vehicle.For the first month, Saide said, she and her MSF colleagues were moved among various prisons and placed with other Westerners taken hostage by IS.
She said that on Jan. 31, 2014, three British guards arrived — the so-called "Beatles" — and "that completely changed everything."
She said some of the male prisoners who had been held and tortured by the British IS guards described them as "social psychopaths with no moral boundaries."
"We realized soon it was an accurate description," she said.
"They were very aggressive towards us, very hateful," she said.
"They treated Americans the worst and then the British," she said. "But they hated all of us."
Foley and Kassig were singled out for particularly harsh treatment.
'Threat of torture'
Saide said the three MSF women were moved to a cell in mid-February with Mueller, the 25-year-old American relief worker.
She said the British IS guards treated Mueller with "a lot of aggressiveness" because she was an American.
"They mentioned that Kayla might have a djinn or a demon inside her," she said, and talked about "horrible ways" to expel it.
"We took it as a threat of torture," she said.
Saide said that when it came time for her and the two other MSF women to be released, they pleaded with the IS Beatles for Mueller to be freed with them.
"They were angry," she said, adding that they would "keep her here until she dies" unless a ransom was paid by her family.
The IS Beatles held at least 27 foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015.
A number of European journalists and aid workers were released after ransoms were paid, but the Americans — Foley, Sotloff and Kassig — were killed, and the IS released videos of their slayings for propaganda purposes.
According to prosecutors, Mueller was turned over to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who raped her repeatedly.
IS announced her death in February 2015, saying she had been killed in a Jordanian airstrike, a claim that was disputed by U.S. authorities.
Elsheikh and another former Briton, Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to U.S. forces in Iraq.
They were flown to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage taking, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and supporting a terrorist organization.
Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and is facing life in prison.
IS Beatles executioner Mohamed Emwazi was killed by a U.S. drone in Syria in 2015.
Elsheikh has denied the charges, and his lawyers claim his arrest is a case of mistaken identity.