Alexanda Kotey (left) and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured by Syrian Kurdish forces
Two former British Islamic State (IS) suspects have been charged with terrorist offenses in the US for the killing of four American hostages.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are accused of belonging to an IS cell called “The Beatles”, which is involved in kidnappings in Iraq and Syria.
The couple are in FBI custody and will later appear before a US federal court in Virginia.
The men in US custody in Iraq previously denied the charges.
US Assistant Attorney General John Demers said at a press conference that the charges were “the result of years of hard work seeking justice” for the four Americans who died – James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Speaking to the families of the victims, he said, “Although we cannot bring your children back, we will do all we can to get justice for them, for you, and for all Americans.”
He added, “These men are now being brought before a United States court to be tried for the depraved actions alleged against them in the indictment.”
The indictment provides for a maximum sentence for life in prison.
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The couple are believed to have been members of an IS gang that was labeled hostages due to their British accents of hostages after the 1960s pop group and was responsible for the deaths of hostages in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Some of the victims – including American journalists and British and American aid workers – were beheaded and their deaths filmed and broadcast on social media.
Kotey and Elsheikh, originally from West London, were previously stripped of their British citizenship.
The charges they face are:
- Conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in death
- Fatal hostage-taking
- Conspiracy to Assassinate United States Citizens Outside the United States
- Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists – hostage-taking and murder – resulting in death
- Conspiracy to materially aid a specific foreign terrorist organization resulting in death
The alleged ringleader of the IS group, Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, died in a drone attack in 2016.
Regarding his death, Mr. Demers said he experienced “a different kind of American determination – the powerful range of our military that successfully attacked him in an air strike a few years ago.”
“Strongest case possible”
The deputy attorney general was asked by reporters whether the death penalty was being applied for not only because the UK government had made it compulsory in return for their cooperation.
“The attorney general decided that we should have the death penalty covered in order to get the UK evidence and see that justice can come faster than if we had to keep trying this matter in the UK courts,” Demers said.
“The decision was to try and keep the option (to apply for the death penalty) open first, but in the end it didn’t work.”
Last month, Britain sent evidence to the US after reassurances that the two men would not face the death penalty.
Mr Demers added, “We decided that if we did this case we would tell the fullest story of what these defendants did and that we would bring the best possible case. And with the British evidence I think , we can do it very well. “
FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the press conference: “We not only mourn our American victims, but also the British victims David Haines and Alan Henning and the victims of all nations who suffered unimaginable atrocities as a result of Isis.”
British helper David Haines was killed in 2014
Mike Haines, whose brother David, a helper, was killed by the IS cell in 2014, said he was relieved that “the fate of these two men is about to be decided, but this is just the beginning”.
“The pain we had as families was excruciating when we lost loved ones and the last three years have been a long, terrible waiting game,” he said.
“It was a huge win for us to know that the US courts were going to move this forward because we’ve waited years since their first imprisonment.”
It took nearly eight years to get to that point – from the day James Foley and John Cantlie were taken hostage in Syria to the reading of the charges against two of the alleged perpetrators, both of whom are in US custody are located.
The eight charges against her are so grave that each is serving a maximum sentence in prison.
The defendants have previously dismissed charges relating to their alleged involvement in the murder of US and British hostages.
But both the US and UK governments appear confident that there is a strong case for law enforcement.
In the course of the upcoming trial, the court is likely to hear some harrowing testimony from those who survived IS captivity – men whose freedom was released in exchange for millions of euros while their fellow prisoners from the US and UK had horrific deaths at the hands from their kidnappers.
The IS once controlled 88,000 km² of territory from western Syria to eastern Iraq and imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people.
The liberation of this territory exposed the extent of the abuse perpetrated by the jihadist group, including summary murders, torture, amputations, ethnic-sectarian attacks, rape and sexual slavery inflicted on women and girls. Hundreds of mass graves containing the remains of thousands of people have been discovered.
UN investigators have concluded that IS fighters have committed acts that may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.