Alleged Islamic State militants known as ‘Beatles’ to face charges in United States
Two alleged Islamic State militants known as the ‘Beatles’ will arrive in the United States to face trial on terrorism charges, relating to their alleged involvement in the beheadings of American hostages in Syria.
- The pair are suspected of being part of a four-strong Islamic State cell known as ‘The Beatles’ because of their British accents
- The group is alleged to have detained or killed Western hostages in Syria, including US journalists
- Other members include Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who was killed in a 2015 drone strike
The alleged militants, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, have been in US military custody abroad since they were captured in 2019.
They grew up in Britain and were UK citizens, but the British Government withdrew their citizenship.
The pair have been suspected of membership in a four-strong Islamic State cell known as ‘The Beatles’ because of their British accents.
The group is alleged to have detained or killed Western hostages in Syria, including US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS. Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans,” Attorney-General William P. Barr said.
Videos of the killings, released online in the form of Islamic State propaganda, stunned the US Government, due to their unflinching violence.
The recordings routinely showed prisoners in orange jumpsuits on their knees beside a captor dressed in black whose native English drove home the global reach of a group that at its peak occupied vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.
Elsheikh and Kotey have been held in US military custody since October 2019 after being captured in Syria one year earlier by the US-based Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Justice Department has long wanted to put them on trial, but those efforts were complicated by wrangling over whether Britain, which does not have the death penalty, would share evidence that could be used in a death penalty prosecution.
In order to secure British help in obtaining evidence on the pair, Mr Barr agreed that US prosecutors would not seek the death penalty in any cases against them and would not carry out executions if they were imposed.
Where do foreign fighters come from?
The number of foreigners who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight has topped 20,000 and surpassed the number attracted to Afghanistan in the 1980s, latest estimates suggest.
The pair were held in Iraq by the US military for around a year and are now in FBI custody, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told a news conference.
“As for their ringleader, Mohamed Emwazi (infamously known as Jihadi John), he faced a different type of American resolve — the mighty reach of our military, which successfully targeted him in an airstrike several years ago,” Mr Demers said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Islamic State is still trying to radicalise people in the United States and elsewhere.
“Their goal is to motivate people to launch attacks against Western targets wherever they are, using any means available,” Mr Wray said.
Mr Wray and Mr Demers said the support of the British Government was critical to moving the investigation and prosecution forward.
The families of Foley, Kassig, Mueller and Sotloff welcomed the news.
“Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a US court.”
If convicted, Kotey and Elsheikh could face up to life in prison.
The two are expected to appear in Federal Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday (local time) afternoon, officials said.