US drops death penalty threat for 'Isis Beatles' accused of beheading American journalists, report says

Justice Department seeks US trial for two British-raised men

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 19 August 2020 16:48
Isis 'Beatles' appear to admit contact with US hostage Kayla Mueller before she was killed in Syria

The US Department of Justice will not seek the death penalty against two British-raised Islamic State members accused of killing US journalists and taking part in gruesome filmed beheadings, according to reports.

In a letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel seeking the government's cooperation, US Attorney General William Barr has signalled that the possibility of the death penalty will be dropped against the men, who are being held in indefinite military detention in Iraq, on the condition that the UK provides evidence in the case. Mr Barr's letter was first reported by Defense One.

The attorney general and his predecessor Jeff Sessions initially baulked at efforts to drop the death sentence against El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, among four British militants who have often been referred to as the Isis "Beatles".

An agreement to remove capital punishment from a successful prosecution could see the men – whose British citizenships have been revoked – stand trial in the US.

"We would hope and expect that, in light of this assurance, the evidence can and will now be provided promptly," Mr Barr wrote. "Further delay is no longer possible if Kotey and Elsheikh are to be tried in the United States, and further delay is an injustice to the families of the victims."

The men were captured in 2018 and have been detained in Iraq since October. The Justice Department has weighed whether to move them to an American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or to face trial in the US, though a British court decision prohibiting the UK from cooperating in capital cases has effectively blocked those efforts.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are accused of participating in Islamic State killings, including that of journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and held hostage before his 2014 murder, broadcast in a filmed message demanding then-president Barack Obama stop airstrikes.

The men also are allegedly responsible for the killing of Time journalist Steven Joel Sotloff, who was kidnapped in 2013 before his filmed execution, also including an address to Mr Obama, a year later.

Mr Barr is seeking cooperation with the UK for a mutual legal assistance treaty for collecting evidence, setting a deadline of 15 October, or the US will transfer custody of the men to the Iraqi government, which would likely lead to their executions.

"After two years of litigation concerning this decision, the Home Office remains unable to transmit the requested evidence or to commit to provide the cooperation required to use the evidence," Mr Barr wrote in the letter dated 18 August.

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