Two Islamic State jihadists from Britain were brought to the United States on Wednesday to face charges in a gruesome campaign of torture, beheadings and other acts of violence against four Americans and others captured and held hostage in Syria, the Justice Department said, according to The Associated Press.
The two men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, along with two other British jihadists, allegedly made up the ISIS cell nicknamed “The Beatles” by surviving captives because of their English accents.
The group's leader, Mohammed Emwazi who was known as “Jihadi John, was killed in an air strike in 2015 in Syria after an intensive manhunt.
Elsheikh and Kotey were expected to make their first appearance Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where a federal grand jury issued an eight-count indictment that accuses them of being "leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme" that resulted in the deaths of Western hostages, including American journalist James Foley.
A fourth member of the so-called “Beatles”, Aine Davis, is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.
The charges against Elsheikh and Kotey are a milestone in a years long effort by US authorities to bring to justice members of the group known for beheadings and barbaric treatment of aid workers, journalists and other hostages in Syria.
Startling for their unflinching depictions of cruelty and violence, recordings of the murders were released online in the form of propaganda for ISIS which at the time controlled vast swathes of Syria and Iraq.
The case underscores the Justice Department's commitment to prosecuting in American civilian court militants captured overseas, said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who vowed that other extremists “will be pursued to the ends of the earth.”
The defendants' arrival in the US sets the stage for arguably the most sensational terrorism trial since the 2014 criminal case against the suspected ringleader of a deadly attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The men are charged in connection with the deaths of four American hostages — Foley, Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — as well as the other British and Japanese nationals who were held captive.
The pair face charges of hostage-taking resulting in death and other terrorism-related counts. Because of a recent concession by the Justice Department, prosecutors will not be seeking the death penalty, according to AP.
Prosecutors say the men worked closely with a chief spokesman for ISIS who reported to the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a US military operation last year
The indictment accuses Kotey and Elsheikh of participating in Foley's 2012 kidnapping and of supervising detention facilities for hostages, “in addition to engaging in a long pattern of physical and psychological violence.”
It also alleges that they coordinated ransom negotiations over email with hostage families. In interviews while in detention, the two men admitted they helped collect email addresses from Mueller that could be used to send out ransom demands.
The 24-page indictment accuses Kotey and Elsheikh of conspiring to murder the hostages and of helping cause their deaths by detaining them. It does not spell out any specific roles for them in the executions.
Elsheikh and Kotey have been held since October 2019 in American military custody after being captured in Syria one year earlier by the US-based Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape Syria for Turkey.