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Isis 'Beatles' flown to US as Department of Justice prepares to announce charges

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh to appear in court in Virginia

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Wednesday 07 October 2020 18:41 BST
Isis 'Beatles' militants captured in Syria: 'It is too late for a fair trial'
Leer en Español

Two alleged members of the Isis “Beatles” cell involved in a series of hostage beheadings in Syria have been flown to the US to face prosecution.

The Department of Justice was expected to announce charges against Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh at a press conference later on Wednesday.

A source told the Associated Press they would appear at a court in Alexandria, Virginia.

The pair were captured in Syria in 2018 as Isis lost its last territory and were held abroad in US military custody.

Last month, Elsheikh’s mother lost a court battle against the British government’s decision to share evidence with American authorities. The ruling cleared the way for the pair to be transferred to the US and put on trial.

Kotey and Elsheikh became the subject of a legal dispute after the UK refused to prosecute them, having removed their British citizenship, despite pressure from Donald Trump’s administration.

Ministers said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute the pair in Britain and so the government decided to hand its information to the US.

The Supreme Court heard that American authorities refused to provide the normal assurance that it would not be used in a prosecution that could lead to the death penalty.

After “many exchanges”, the home secretary - then Sajid Javid - agreed to comply with the request without any assurances in June 2018.

He authorised the sharing of 600 witness statements gathered by the Metropolitan Police in a letter to then US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

When the case was first heard in the High Court lawyers representing Elsheikh’s mother said Mr Javid’s actions were influenced by the “anticipated outrage” of members of the Trump administration if the mutual legal assistance request was refused.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were stripped of their British citizenship

They had also pushed for the CPS to review claims that there was insufficient evidence for the men to be charged and tried in the UK.

In August, the US attorney general William Barr wrote to the British government providing assurances against the death penalty.

“The United States will not seek the death penalty in any prosecutions it might bring against Alexanda Kotey or Shafee Elsheikh, and if imposed, the death penalty will not be carried out," the letter said.

“Moreover, we will not transfer any evidence already or subsequently provided to us by the United Kingdom to third countries that might impose the death penalty upon Kotey or Elsheikh.”

Elsheikh and Kotey were transferred into US military custody last October, following Turkey’s invasion of the region of northern Syria where they were being held by Kurdish-led forces.

Originally from London, they were declared “specially designated global terrorists” by the US State Department ahead of their capture, with official documents naming them as members of “The Beatles” and saying the cell had beheaded more than 27 hostages and tortured many more.

The cell was dubbed the “Beatles” by victims because of their British accents.

Surviving captives have told of their brutality, which included waterboarding, electric shocks, mock executions and crucifixions.

Executioner Mohammed Emwazi, who became known as “Jihadi John”, was killed in a drone strike, while the remaining “Beatle”, Aine Davis, was imprisoned in Turkey.

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