British-born ISIS 'Beatles' accused of taking US citizens hostage to stand trial in Virginia

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The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against two British-born Islamic State members, dubbed the “Beatles” for their alleged role in the hostage-taking and deaths of four U.S. citizens, as well as British and Japanese nationals.

“These charges 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,” Attorney General William Barr said of the duo, who are being brought to the United States from Iraq to stand trial. “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. Either way, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done.”

Alexanda Amon Kotey (“Jihadi Ringo”), 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh (“Jihadi George”), 32, had been held by the U.S. military in Iraq after being captured, but are now expected to make their initial appearances in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday afternoon. They have been charged with hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens abroad, conspiracy to provide support to a terrorist group resulting in death, and more.

“Today, we remember the victims, Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller, and their families who are forever affected by these senseless acts of violence,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday. “These families have suffered with the painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers; today’s charges demonstrate the FBI’s dedication and commitment to giving them the justice they deserve. We, along with our partners in the U.S. Government, remain steadfast in our duty to bring to justice those who have harmed our citizens — no matter where they are, and no matter how long it takes.”

The Justice Department unsealed a 24-page indictment detailing the alleged crimes spanning 2012 through 2015 of the four British ISIS “Beatles” — Kotey, Elsheikh, Mohammed Emwazi (known as “Jihadi John” and who has been killed), and a fourth called CC-1 in court documents but known to be Aine Lesley Davis (“Jihadi Paul”), who is incarcerated in Turkey. These four ISIS fighters “participated in the abduction of American and European hostages in Syria” and “allegedly engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages, including against American citizens James Wright Foley, Kayla Jean Mueller, Steven Joel Sotloff, and Peter Edward Kassig,” the document said. The Justice Department noted that from August 2014 through October 2014, ISIS released videos depicting Emwazi’s “barbaric beheadings of Foley, Sotloff, and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning,” in November 2014 “ISIS released a video depicting the decapitated head of Kassig,” and “in January 2015, ISIS released videos with images of two dead Japanese citizens.”

“We, the families of James Foley, Peter Kassig, Kayla Mueller and Steven Sotloff, welcome the news that two ISIS fighters accused of playing a role kidnapping, tormenting and murdering Western hostages have been brought to stand trial in the United States,” a Wednesday statement from the families said. “James, Peter, Kayla and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved, and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria. Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a U.S. court.”

Lady Hale of the British Supreme Court ruled in March that the government should cease assisting the U.S. with its case against Elsheikh and Kotey if the death penalty remained on the table because the U.K. has abolished capital punishment. But Barr sent a three-page letter to U.K. Home Minister Priti Patel in August to “provide an assurance that, if the United Kingdom grants our mutual legal assistance request, the United States will not seek the death penalty.” Barr said over the summer that “time is of the essence” and “further delay is an injustice to the families of the victims.”

The parents of Mueller, Foley, Kassig, and Sotloff, all abducted and killed by members of the terrorist group, penned a joint op-ed published in July by the Washington Post, urging the Trump administration to bring ISIS fighters held by the U.S. military overseas to the U.S. to stand trial. The families said that ISIS members such as Emwazi and ISIS founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi have already been killed but stressed that others, such as Elsheikh and Kotey, should still be tried.

Elsheikh and Kotey have admitted to being part of an ISIS terrorist cell that was responsible for the killings of U.S. humanitarian aid workers Mueller and Kassig, U.S. journalists Foley and Sotloff, British humanitarian aid workers Haines and Henning, and others.

NBC News reported in July that Elsheikh and Kotey confessed to being involved in Mueller’s imprisonment in Syria. U.S. officials have said that Baghdadi raped Mueller before she was killed. The Special Forces team who took out Baghdadi in October 2019 dubbed their mission “Task Force 8-14,” named for Mueller’s birthday of Aug. 14, 1988.

ISIS’s short-lived, self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq began during the Obama administration following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and was marked by attempted genocide, extreme violence, crucifixions, beheadings, slavery, the subjugation of women, and the inspiration of like-minded terrorists worldwide. The group’s physical caliphate has been essentially eliminated during the Trump administration, and President Trump has repeatedly urged other countries to take back their ISIS fighters.

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