Two alleged Islamic State militants known as the ‘Beatles’ appeared in a United States Federal Court in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh will stand trial on criminal charges for their alleged involvement in beheadings of American hostages in Syria.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger said that both suspects were apprised of the eight count criminal charges against them. The 24-page indictment includes a lengthy list of tortures the defendants are accused of inflicting on their captives, including electric shocks with a taser, forcing hostages to fight each other, 20-minute beatings with sticks and waterboarding.
The pair are suspected of belonging to a four-member Islamic State cell known of dubbed the ‘Beatles’ due to their English accents, with each nicknamed after members of the iconic British band.
Kotey, referred to as “Jihadi Ringo’ by his hostages, was born in the United Kingdom to a Ghanaian father and Greek Cypriot mother. Elsheikh, called “Jihadi George” was born in Sudan, but later immigrated to the U.K. They were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) while trying to flee the collapsed Islamic State in early 2018, and transferred the following year to U.S. military custody in Iraq until being handed over to the FBI.
The other two members included “Jihadi John,” whose real name was Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait of Iraqi descent. He died in 2015 during targeted joint-U.S./U.K. drone strikes in Raqqa, Syria. “Paul,” Aine Davis, is a British convert to Islam who prayed at the same London mosque as Emwazi. Davis was arrested after fleeing to Turkey in 2015, where he was convicted of terror offenses in 2017 and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
The cell became infamous for the alleged detention and murders of Western hostages, many of whose beheadings were posted online by the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) or its Arabic acronym of Daesh.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that the charges against Kotey and Elsheikh “are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS. Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans.”
Barr agreed that the U.S. would not seek the death penalty in any cases against them or carry out executions if they were imposed in a deal with British authorities to secure help in obtaining evidence on the pair. The indictment alleges four counts of hostage taking resulting in death and four more criminal counts of conspiracy to murder and to support terrorists. If convicted, Kotey and Elsheikh could face up to life in prison.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers referred to the group as “the notoriously brutal ISIS hostage-taking cell,” and said the prosecution “is the result of many years of hard work in the pursuit of justice for these Americans. We have been inspired by their memories and moved by the determination and grit of their families, families which will never rest until justice is done. To them, I say this: neither will we. Although we cannot bring back your children, we will do all that we can: obtain justice for them, for you, and for all Americans.”
Among specific murders the indictment alleges Kotey and Elsheikh were involved in was that of Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker from Arizona who was captured by Islamic State militants in August 2013. According to the indictment, Mueller was sexually abused by the late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi while held captive in Syria beginning about October 2014, and her family was informed of her death in an email from Islamic State fighters in February 2014.
The group also murdered aid worker Peter Kassig, U.S. journalist James Foley and dual American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff. The Kassig, Mueller and Sotloff welcomed news of the Kotey and Elsheikh indictment in a joint statement, reading, “James, Peter, Kayla and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved, and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria,” adding, “Nnow our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a U.S. court.”
As neither of the defendants, who have been stripped of their British citizenship, have lawyers; prosecutors say it is likely that they will at least initially be represented by federal public defenders.