Two IS 'Beatles' to appear in US court to face charges

Washington (AFP) –


Two members of an Islamic State cell dubbed the "Beatles" were to appear in a US court on Wednesday to face charges of conspiring to murder four American hostages, US officials said.

Former British nationals El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, and Alexanda Kotey, 36, are accused of involvement in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

They are also suspected of involvement in the deaths of two Britons, Alan Henning and David Haines, and several other hostages including Japanese nationals.

"Our message to other terrorists around the world is this -— if you harm Americans, you will face American arms on the battlefield or American law in our courtrooms," Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement. "Either way, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the transfer of the pair to the United States from Iraq, where they have been held in the custody of US forces.

"The United States will not rest until these alleged terrorists are held accountable for their crimes and justice is delivered to their victims' families," Pompeo said.

The two IS members have been stripped of their UK nationality but the transfer to the United States was only made possible after the US authorities assured Britain they would not seek the death penalty.

Britain handed over evidence against the pair to the US authorities last month and a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday "we want justice to be done in this case."

The families of Foley, Kassig, Sotloff and Mueller welcomed the news that the two IS members were being brought to the United States to face justice.

"James, Peter, Kayla and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved, and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria," the families said in a joint statement. "Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a US court."

"We are hopeful that the US government will finally be able to send the important message that if you harm Americans, you will never escape justice," they said. "And when you are caught, you will face the full power of American law."

- 'Horrific crimes' -

The Justice Department unveiled an eight-count grand jury indictment against the pair charging them with various offenses including hostage-taking, conspiracy to commit murder and other charges.

If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Kotey and Elsheikh's four-member cell was dubbed the "Beatles" by their captives due to their British accents.

They tortured and killed victims, including by beheading, and the IS released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.

They are to appear to make an initial appearance before a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT).

According to the indictment, Kotey and Elsheikh were involved in abducting American and European hostages in Syria from 2012 to 2015 along with another member of the "Beatles," Mohamed Emwazi, who was killed in a US airstrike in November 2015, and another unidentified man incarcerated in Turkey.

"Kotey and Elsheikh are alleged to have committed horrific crimes in support of IS, including hostage taking resulting in the deaths of four American citizens," said Zachary Terwilliger, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Their alleged acts have shattered the lives of four American families."

Kotey and Elsheikh supervised detention facilities for hostages and allegedly coordinated ransom negotiations conducted by email, according to the US authorities.

The pair also engaged in a "prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages," they said.