Two suspected British terrorists accused of being part of an Islamic State execution squad that beheaded Western hostages are facing charges in the US.
Alexanda Kotey, 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, are said to have been part of a four-man IS cell dubbed ‘The Beatles’ because of their British accents .
They are accused of being involved in a ‘brutal hostage-taking scheme’ that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.
Many of the deaths were filmed and beamed around the world in graphic detail by so-called Islamic State.
Kotey and Elsheikh, both from west London, are due to appear in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday.
The cell, said to be made up of ringleader Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, Aine Davis, Kotey and Elsheikh, is allegedly responsible for the killings of a number of Western captives, including Britons Alan Henning and David Haines.
Emwazi was killed in a US airstrike in 2015 while Davis was imprisoned in Turkey three years ago.
The indictment described how hostages were subjected to mock executions, forced to fight one another, beaten and electrocuted with tasers and placed in chokeholds until they passed out.
It said victims were forced to witness the murder of other hostages then told to kneel before the executioner and informed they would be next.
Announcing the charges during a press conference, John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, told reporters the pair will now come before a court in the US to ‘face justice for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment’.
Addressing the families of the victims, he said: ‘Although we cannot bring back your children, we will do all that we can do: obtain justice for them, for you, and for all Americans.’
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018 and transferred to the custody of the US military in Iraq in October 2019, remaining in American custody ever since.
The were previously stripped of their British citizenship but their extradition to the US was held up by a British court until the US attorney general agreed not to pursue the death penalty.
Mr Demers confirmed the death penalty would not be pursued in the case, but when asked if this was solely because the UK had demanded this guarantee in return for its co-operation, he said: ‘The decision was to try to keep the option (of seeking the death penalty) open at first but ultimately that didn’t work.’
Last month, families of the men allegedly killed by the pair welcomed news they were likely to face trial in the US.
Former aircraft engineer and humanitarian Mr Haines, 44, from Perth in Scotland, was beheaded in Syria in 2014 after being held prisoner for 18 months.
Cab driver-turned-aid worker Mr Henning, 47, from Lancashire, was also beheaded in 2014 after being captured by extremists in Syria.
Mr Haines’s brother Mike said: ‘The pain we experienced as families was excruciating when we lost our loved ones, and the last three years have been a long, horrible waiting game.
‘I, like the other families, am relieved that the fate of these two men is closer to being decided but this is just the beginning.
‘It was a big win for us knowing that the US courts would be taking this forward because we have been waiting years since they were first detained.’
US prosecutors say the squad beheaded more than 27 hostages. They include US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the US aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
The two defendants face eight charges including four counts of hostage taking resulting in death.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
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