ISIS 'Beatles' guards finally heading to US courtroom: Officials

The suspects are facing charges relating to the murder of American hostages.

October 06, 2020, 4:35 PM

Two men accused of being from a quartet of ISIS guards known as the “Beatles” -- so nick-named by their hostages so they could secretly discuss their masked British captors -- are expected to be charged by U.S. prosecutors this week and transferred “in the near future” from Iraq to the U.S. to finally face justice, officials and others briefed on plans told ABC News today.

The men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, allegedly helped torment and execute western journalists and humanitarian aid workers held hostage in Syria and have been in limbo since their 2018 capture by Kurdish YPG fighters allied with U.S. special operations forces.

The FBI has made meticulous plans to transport the admitted ISIS members from Iraq to the U.S., where they will be brought to a federal court and charged with offenses related to the kidnapping and deaths of several Americans, three officials said.

Kotey and Elsheikh are alleged to be members of the brutal cell of British ISIS fighters behind the video beheadings six years ago of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and humanitarian worker Abdul-Rachman (Peter) Kassig, officials said.

Their expected transfer to the U.S has followed more than two years of squabbling between the U.K. and U.S. governments over their case. The impasse was finally resolved when Attorney General William Barr relented over the summer and promised the two won't face the death penalty, which the U.K. opposes.

Cleared a legal hurdle

Families of four American hostages who were killed have told the Trump administration since that Kotey and Elsheikh should be charged in federal court, but not with a capital offense. They also said the men should not be imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, where the military commission system moves at a glacial pace.

The ISIS detainees' families filed cases in British courts to prevent London from sharing evidence with Washington, but a court recently cleared the way and the evidence has been shared, sources said.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi would not comment on the transfer of detainees but told ABC News that, "We continue to appreciate the U.K.’s assistance in the transfer of evidence and look forward to seeing them [the suspects] in a court of law."

Kotey and Elsheikh have admitted in a videotaped interview with British independent journalist Sean Langan, recently aired on NBC, to overseeing the harsh detention of humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller of Prescott, Arizona, who was tortured, raped and killed in ISIS captivity in 2015. Langan’s six-hour video interviews of the two confessed jihadis is anticipated to be shown as evidence should their case go to trial, ABC News also learned. (Langan has been a frequent contributor to ABC News in the past.)

Families of the Americans slain by ISIS have been flown to Washington by the government at least twice since President Trump was elected to meet with senior officials and share their views of what should happen to the two detainees. In those private meetings and in public op-eds, the families have said that achieving justice and ascertaining more information about how their loved ones' final days unfolded and how they died should be the goal, they have told ABC News.

None of the murdered hostages' bodies have been located to date, though joint FBI-U.S. Special Forces teams unearthed human remains in Syria based on intelligence leads resulting from the capture of Elsheikh and Kotey in 2018. But FBI DNA tests determined none of the remains recovered were from the murdered hostages, ABC News has reported.

What's next

If Kotey and Elsheikh plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, the pair will be sent to the U.S. Administrative Maximum Prison in Florence, Colorado, known as “Supermax,” where Zacarías Moussaoui and other al Qaeda terrorists are locked up in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

At sentencing in 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema told Moussaoui, known for his courtroom rants against America, "You came here to be a martyr and to die in a great big bang of glory. But, to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead, you will die with a whimper.”

The ISIS "Beatles" were dubbed that so hostages could discuss the British ISIS captors with each other and identify them by nicknames John, Paul, Ringo and George. They horrified the world by savagely cutting off the hostages' heads in slickly-produced videos as a warning to President Obama to cease bombing ISIS positions in its growing caliphate.

Some hostages were freed in 2014 after ransom payments but the U.S. and U.K. refused to allow such payouts even as the two governments began airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On Aug. 19, 2014, the first ISIS video was posted online with a masked and knife-wielding terrorist speaking with a pronounced British accent, who showed Foley being beheaded.

ABC News and other outlets reported that the executioner, soon dubbed “Jihadi John,” was among four Britons holding almost two dozen Western hostages. He warned Obama to stop the air campaign or more would die.

He was later identified as a Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi after executing Foley, Sotloff, Kassig, two British aid workers, a Japanese journalist and a Japanese businessman over the course of four months. Emwazi was killed in 2015 by a CIA drone strike in Syria. An alleged fourth “Beatle,” Aine Davis, was captured in Turkey, where little is known about his status.

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