Isis 'Beatles' militants captured in Syria accuse government of breaking law by removing British citizenship

Diplomatic stalemate continues over whether Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh should be tried in US or UK

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 31 March 2018 08:41 BST
Isis 'Beatles' militants captured in Syria: 'It is too late for a fair trial'

Two surviving members of the Isis cell known as "The Beatles" have accused the government of violating international law by stripping them of British citizenship.

In an interview from the prison where they are being held by UK allies the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), they denied being members of the group headed by the executioner “Jihadi John”.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey told the Associated Press they were the victims of “propaganda” and would not receive a fair trial.

Asked about the beheadings of hostages including the American journalist James Foley and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Kotey claimed many fellow Isis fighters “would have disagreed” with the killings “in the grounds that there is probably more benefit in them being political prisoners”.

“As for my position, I didn't see any benefit,” he added, blaming governments that refused to pay huge ransoms for their deaths. "It was something that was regrettable.”

Their first interview emerged after authorities announced the death of a British soldier in an explosion from an improvised device in Syria.

It was the first time a member of the UK armed forces has been killed since intervention against Isis started in 2014, with eight volunteers who fought the group with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units killed in the same period.

Both Elsheikh and Kotey were declared “specially designated global terrorists” last year for their roles in the Beatles, with officials holding the cell responsible for beheading more than 27 hostages and torturing many more.

Two British ISIS 'Beatles' members will either face trial in Syria or be returned to Turkey

A small number of captives, including French journalist Nicolas Henin, were freed and have told of the British militants’ brutality.

Speaking to The Independent after the pair were captured in January, Mr Henin described all four Beatles as “arrogant, considering themselves as the elite forces of the ‘caliphate’, connected to the highest level of the leadership of the group, and regularly brutal”.

The US Department of State accused Elsheikh, 29, of carrying out waterboarding, mock executions and crucifixions while serving as a jailer, while fellow guard Kotey was allegedly involved in beheadings and known for administering “exceptionally cruel torture methods”, including electronic shocks.

The 34-year-old is also accused of acting as an Isis recruiter and being responsible for drawing several other British extremists to join Isis.

The pair denied being members of the Isis Beatles, claiming the accusations were a pretext to kill them in drone strikes, but admitted joining the terrorist group itself.

”No fair trial, when I am 'the Beatle' in the media. No fair trial,“ Elsheikh said.

He claimed the British government’s move to strip them of citizenship was illegal and put them at risk of ”rendition and torture”.

The UK has removed British citizenship from some known Isis members using a law allowing the move for the “public good”, aiming to prevent militants from returning to Britain.

It does not prevent them being put on trial in the UK, even if the offences in question were committed abroad.

Making a person stateless is against several United Nations conventions and judges have previously found the UK in breach of international law when stripping citizenship from terror suspects who are not dual nationals.

“When you have these two guys who don't even have any citizenship ... if we just disappear one day, where is my mum going to go and say ‘where is my son’,” Elsheikh said.

American officials have interrogated the men but there is a stalemate between the UK and US over what should happen next.

Families of their victims and freed hostages have called for them to be jailed for life, but only after a fair trial.

The US has been pressing for the home countries of foreign jihadis captured in retaken Isis territory in Iraq and Syria to take their nationals for trial.

But the government appears to have refused so far, with the defence secretary claiming Kotey and Elsheikh should not be allowed to “set foot in the UK again”.

The government declined to comment on their claims but said it would work with partners “to ensure justice is served”.

“We continue to work extremely closely with the US government on this issue, sharing our views, as we do on a range of national security issues and in the context of our joint determination to tackle international terrorism and combat violent extremism,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Office said.

The US State Department said it was working with nations in the anti-Isis international coalition the disposition of detainees in SDF detention.

Alexanda Kotey

“These diplomatic discussions are private and we have no additional information to provide,” a representative told The Independent.

The Beatles were all from west London and earned their nickname through their distinctive British accents after joining Isis in Syria.

Their ringleader Jihadi John, whose real name was Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a 2015 drone strike and the fourth militant in the cell, Aine Davis, has been jailed for terror offences in Turkey.

Born in London, Kotey is half-Ghanaian, half-Greek Cypriot and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush. He is believed to have converted to Islam in his early twenties and left two young children in Britain.

Elsheikh came to the UK as a child from Sudan, when his family were granted refugee status, and was a mechanic from White City. He had links to local gangs as a teenager, with his older brother jailed for gun possession, and was not known to be religious until he was introduced to a radical preacher.

Elsheikh travelled to Syria in 2012 and joined al-Qaeda’s regional branch before an internal dispute led to a splinter group becoming Isis.

Additional reporting by AP

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