Two alleged members of a notorious Islamic State cell behind the public beheadings of Western hostages in Syria in the mid-2010s have been transferred to the United States to stand trial on terror charges, law enforcement officials announced Wednesday.
The two men from Briton, Alexanda Amon Kotey, 36, and el-Shafee Elsheikh, 32, allegedly belonged to a four-person cell of Islamic State fighters in Syria dubbed the “Beatles” that carried out half-a-dozen shocking video executions of American and other Western hostages in 2014 and 2015.
Their alleged ringleader, Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Briton dubbed “Jihadi John,” was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Syria in November 2015. A fourth member was subsequently arrested in Turkey, where he was tried and convicted on terrorism charges.
Kotey and Elsheikh were held in Iraq for the past two years after their capture by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria in 2018. Their long-awaited transfer comes after Attorney General William Barr assured British authorities in August that the U.S. would not seek the death penalty against the two men, ending a two-year standoff between U.S. and British authorities.
Kotey and Elsheikh, both former British citizens who had their citizenship revoked, are expected to make their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, later in the day.
“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS,” Barr said. “Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans.”
The cell was allegedly responsible for the executions of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and American aid worker Peter Kassig, also known as Abdul Rahman Kassig. Another American aid worker, Kayla Mueller, was killed under unknown circumstances.
“Today, we remember the victims, Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller, and their families who are forever affected by these senseless acts of violence,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “These families have suffered with the painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers; today’s charges demonstrate the FBI’s dedication and commitment to giving them the justice they deserve.”
Their victims included British and Japanese citizens. According to an indictment unsealed Wednesday, the four militants participated in the abduction of Western hostages in Syria from 2012 to 2015. From August 2014 to October 2014, IS released videos showing the beheadings of Foley and Sotloff as well as two British citizens. A November 2014 video depicted the beheading of Kassig. That was followed by the January 2015 videos of two dead Japanese hostages.
Kotey and Elsheikh are each charged with conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death; four counts of hostage taking resulting in death; conspiracy to murder United States citizens outside of the United States; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death; and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of life in prison.