Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two members of a “notoriously brutal” Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) cell nicknamed ‘the Beatles’ for their British accents, have been charged with eight terror-related counts stemming from the murder of four American hostages, Attorney General for National Security John Demers told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday. The pair are in FBI custody and will stand trial in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Demers took a few minutes to remember Kayla Mueller, Peter Kassig, James Foley, and Steven Sotloff, the four Americans who were killed – two beheaded on camera – by the hostage-taking cell. After flashing memorial photos and reading brief biographies of the dead, he warned “other terrorists” that any such acts would always be met with massive retaliation. Recalling the death in a drone strike of the leader of the cell, Mohammed “Jihadi John” Emwazi, Demers implied that retaliation need not be limited to a courtroom process.
“If you harm an American, you will face the same fate as these men,” he declared. “You will face American arms in the battlefield, and if you survive that, you will face American justice in an American courtroom and the prospect of many years in an American prison.”
Kotey and Elsheikh have been held in US military custody in Iraq since October, transferred there after their initial capture by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2018. While the UK has revoked their citizenship, London only agreed to supply evidence to US authorities after a long disagreement over the death penalty was finally resolved last month. The US has promised not to execute the pair.
However, they face life in prison on each of the eight felony counts listed in the indictment unsealed on Wednesday. Both men are charged with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in death, hostage-taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder US citizens outside the US, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists in the form of hostage taking resulting in death and murder, and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
The slain Americans, along with UK and Japanese citizens held hostage by the IS cell, were subjected to “forced witnessing of murders, mock executions, shocks by electric taser, and beatings, amongst other brutal acts” at the hands of their captors, including sexual assault of female captive Kayla Mueller, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Zach Terwilliger revealed.
While the alleged terrorists admitted they had “interacted” with the hostages, “sometimes violently,” in order to get information, they have denied participating in the killings.
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