A British member of an Isis cell that was nicknamed “the Beatles” and was notorious for its brutal kidnapping and beheading of hostages, has pleaded guilty in an American court.
Alexanda Kotey, 37, pleaded guilty to federal charges of hostage-taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit murder against US citizens abroad, and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
Reports said that family members of many of the victims killed by the cell of British jihadis – nicknamed “the Beatles” because of their accents – were in court to watch the proceedings in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Alexanda Kotey, an avowed member of Isis, pleaded guilty today to all charges that were brought against him in the United States for his participation in a horrific hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four US citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria,” acting United States attorney and one of the lead prosecutors on the case, Raj Parekh, said in a statement. “He has agreed to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Mr Parekh added: “The four American victims in this case — James Wright Foley, Kayla Jean Mueller, Steven Joel Sotloff and Peter Edward Kassig — were journalists and humanitarian aid workers, pillars of courage and kindness on the front lines of a perilous conflict.
“They risked their lives to shine a light on the darkest corners of the globe and to help others most in need. The values that they personified to the very end are the antithesis of those embodied by the terrorist organisation that murdered them.”
Kotey and fellow alleged “Beatle” El Shafee Elsheikh initially pleaded not guilty at a hearing last October. But in a move that indicated the British-born extremist had done a plea deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to each of the charges levelled at him.
The New York Times reported that as family members of four of the cell’s victims sat in silence in the federal court, which has been frequently used to try terror and espionage cases, Kotey spoke without apparent emotion as he detailed his crimes.
He said he had always known that the hostages would be killed if the US government did not meet their ransom demands, which he emailed to their families. If they did not meet those demands, it would “ultimately result in either indefinite detention of those foreign captives or their execution”.
Reports said that as part of the plea deal, Kotey must meet with the family members of the murdered hostages if they wish to talk to him. After he has served 15 years in the US, the UK will be allowed to try him.
Britain has accused the cell of being involved in the deaths of several other hostages, including Alan Henning, a British taxi driver who was delivering aid, and Scottish aid worker David Haines, as well as two Japanese nationals.
The Washington Post reported that Kotey pleaded guilty to charges including hostage-taking resulting in the deaths of four Americans. and conspiring to support the terrorists who killed American, British and Japanese hostages.
In a statement after the hearing, Diane Foley, mother of James, said the plea had arrived on the anniversary of Sotloff’s death.
She said she was grateful “to all involved in apprehending Alexanda Kotey, investigating his brutal crimes against humanity, and making the strong case for his direct culpability” in the death of her son as well as the deaths of Mueller, Sotloff, Kassig and “and countless other innocents”.
She added: “This accountability is essential … if our country wishes to ever deter hostage taking. I would like to use this moment to beseech our government to prioritise the return of all US nationals kidnapped or wrongfully detained abroad. Attacks on journalists are at an all-time high and our US hostage crisis is a silent epidemic, which few are aware of.”
Kotey was captured in Syria by a Kurdish-backed militia in 2018, along with Elsheikh, reportedly as they sought to escape to Turkey as western and Kurdish forces confronted Isis and started to retake land that the extremists had taken in Syria and Iraq to establish a so-called “caliphate”.
Another member of the cell — Mohammed Emwazi, better known as “Jihadi John” — was killed in an airstrike in 2015 in Syria.
The fourth member of the group, Aine Davis, has been held in Turkey on terrorism charges.