Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two of the Islamic State (ISIS) “Beatles” who starred in many of the terrorist group’s brutal execution videos, were flown to the United States from Iraq on Wednesday and charged in federal court for the deaths of James Foley and other American hostages.
Kotey and Elsheikh joined with fellow British-educated jihadis Mohammed Emwazi and Aine Lesley Davis to become “The Beatles,” so named by ISIS hostages because they spoke with British accents. The Beatles were linked to the murder and torture of dozens of hostages, including James Foley and Kayla Mueller.
Emwazi, the most infamous of the four, became known as “Jihadi John” after his performances in several execution videos. He was eliminated by a U.S. drone strike in Syria in 2015. Davis was arrested in Turkey around the same time and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on terrorism charges.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by Kurdish forces in 2018 and remanded to U.S. military custody in Iraq after Turkey invaded Syria in October 2019. They admitted to numerous ISIS crimes in custody they had previously denied, including their role in holding aid worker Kayla Mueller captive.
After 18 months of physical and sexual abuse, Mueller was killed during Jordanian strikes on ISIS positions in 2015. The 2019 raid authorized by President Donald Trump that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named in Mueller’s honor. The Republican National Convention invited her parents, Carl and Marsha, to speak, where they asserted, “The Trump team gave us empathy we never received from the Obama administration. … If Donald Trump had been president when Kayla was captured, she would be here today.”
Journalist James Foley was the first American executed on video by the Islamic State. He was kidnapped by militants in Syria in 2012 and beheaded with a knife on camera in 2014. His killer was later identified as “Jihadi John,” Mohammed Emwazi.
Another hostage threatened in the Foley execution video, Steven Sotloff, became the second American to be murdered on video by ISIS in September 2014. Sotloff was forced by his captors to blame his death on former President Barack Obama’s “foreign policy of intervention in Iraq.” Another American hostage, Peter Kassig, was beheaded on camera the following November. The Beatles were ultimately connected to at least 27 murders.
The U.S. government maintains Kotey and Elsheikh were involved in much more serious atrocities than those they admitted to, including executions, crucifixions, and torture. Both were designated global terrorists by the U.S. State Department in 2017.
The Justice Department (DOJ) said on Wednesday they “allegedly engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages, including against American citizens James Wright Foley, Kayla Jean Mueller, Steven Joel Sotloff, and Peter Edward Kassig.”
The two are charged with “conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder United States citizens outside of the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist resulting in death and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death.”
They could face life in prison if convicted of all charges. Attorney General William Barr promised the British government in August they would not face the death penalty if extradited to the United States and warned the U.S. would transfer the two prisoners to Iraqi custody for prosecution if the British government did not begin cooperating by the middle of October.
British courts ruled in 2015 that evidence collected by the U.K. government could not be passed along to the U.S. if the death penalty was on the table for Kotey and Elsheikh. Cooperation with the U.S. prosecution was authorized after Barr promised not to seek the death penalty.
Kotey and Elsheikh were stripped of their British citizenship in 2018, a move they denounced as “illegal” because it supposedly exposed them to “rendition and torture.” They claimed they could never receive a fair trial because of “propaganda” against them in the media. Elsheikh’s mother successfully sued the British government in 2018 to prevent it from cooperating with U.S. prosecutors; she filed another suit in September but it was swiftly dismissed by a lower court because Attorney General Barr promised not to seek the death penalty.
Kotey and Elsheikh are now in FBI custody and will appear in U.S. federal court in Virginia. U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers said on Wednesday the charges against them are “the result of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice.”
“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,” Demers said to the families of ISIS victims. “These men will now be brought before a United States court to face justice for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment.”
“We decided that if we were going to do this case, we were going to tell the fullest story we could of what these defendants did and we were going to put on the strongest case possible. And with the British evidence I think we can do that very well,” Demers told reporters.
“We mourn not only our American victims but also the British victims David Haines and Alan Henning, and victims of all nations who suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of ISIS,” added FBI Director Christopher Wray.