WASHINGTON — Two infamous Islamic State detainees from Britain had been dropped at the United States on Wednesday to face federal prices over accusations that they jailed and tortured Western hostages, a few of whom had been beheaded, Justice Department officers stated.
The switch is a milestone within the saga of the 2 males, El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, and Alexanda Kotey, 36, who’re half of an ISIS cell of 4 Britons referred to as “the Beatles” — a nickname bestowed by their victims due to their accents — and identified for his or her excessive brutality.
The American authorities has linked the group to the kidnapping and abuse of greater than two dozen hostages, a few of whom had been in the end beheaded for propaganda movies, together with the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The British extremists repeatedly beat the hostages they stored imprisoned in Raqqa, Syria, previously the Islamic State’s self-declared capital, in line with prosecutors. They subjected their hostages to abuses together with waterboarding, mock executions, painful stress positions, meals deprivation, beatings with sticks lasting 20 minutes or longer, chokeholds inflicting blackouts and electrical shocks. They additionally pressured their hostages to battle one another and to witness murders, court docket papers stated.
At a information convention on Wednesday, Justice Department officers and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, introduced the lads had been indicted on a number of prices, together with hostage-taking leading to dying and conspiracy to commit homicide exterior the United States. If convicted, the lads might spend the remainder of their lives in jail. They made an preliminary look on Wednesday in federal court docket in Alexandria, Va.
“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS,” Attorney General William P. Barr stated in a press release. “Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans.”
Both of the detainees had been captured by an American-backed Kurdish militia in Syria in early 2018. In October 2019, the American army took custody of them amid the upheaval of Turkey’s assaults on the militia, they usually had been held in Iraq since then.
Their arrival and the initiation of a civilian trial is a victory for the households of the hostages who had been killed. The households had pushed for the lads to be prosecuted in federal court docket as an alternative of being despatched to the army jail at Guantánamo Bay, the place army commissions have proved dysfunctional in instances wherein defendants contest the costs relatively than plead responsible.
The two males have given quite a few interviews whereas imprisoned, at first putting a largely unrepentant tone and dodging questions on their culpability within the killing of the hostages. But as time handed, the lads appeared extra apologetic and admitted holding Westerners hostage in later interviews.
Another member of the cell — Mohammed Emwazi, higher referred to as Jihadi John — was killed in an airstrike in 2015 in Syria. Mr. Emwazi was believed to have killed Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff, each Americans, in addition to Peter Kassig, an assist employee.
A fourth man, Aine Davis, is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism prices. The extradition of Mr. Davis to the United States appears unlikely because the American-Turkish relationship deteriorates.
The households of Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff in addition to these of Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig, two Americans who had been additionally killed in Syria, stated they welcomed the information the 2 males had been being dropped at the United States to be prosecuted.
“James, Peter, Kayla and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria,” the households stated in a press release. “Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a U.S. court.”
The households added they had been notably grateful to Mr. Barr for his choice to waive the dying penalty towards the 2 males and thanked Ali H. Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who quietly helped them.
Any trial would almost definitely contain former hostages, particularly from Italy, France, Spain and Denmark, probably testifying and recounting the horrors they skilled whereas imprisoned by the Islamic State in Syria.
The two males helped supervise detention services the place hostages had been held, coordinated ransom negotiations for his or her launch and engaged in a chronic sample of bodily and psychological violence towards their prisoners, charging paperwork stated. For instance, on April 25, 2014, prosecutors stated, the lads pressured prisoners from Europe to witness the homicide of a Syrian man by Mr. Emwazi as a part of a hostage negotiation course of.
“Emwazi executed the Syrian prisoner by shooting him in the back of the head and then numerous times in the torso as and when he fell into a grave,” the charging paperwork stated. “Kotey instructed the hostages to kneel at the side of the grave and witness the execution while holding handmade signs pleading for their release. Elsheikh videotaped the execution of the Syrian hostage.”
It added: “After the execution, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi returned the European hostages to the prison with Elsheikh telling one hostage, “You’re next.”
All 4 males had lived in West London. Mr. Kotey, born in London, is of Ghanaian and Greek Cypriot background, whereas Mr. Elsheikh’s household fled Sudan within the 1990s. Both males have been designated international terrorists by the United States. The United Kingdom has stripped them of their British passports.
The Trump administration wished to convey the 2 detainees to the United States for a trial in civilian court docket, because the households of their victims urged, however their switch was delayed by a necessity for proof in British fingers that prosecutors considered as important to show their case.
A lawsuit in Britain introduced by the mom of one of many defendants tied up that authorities’s capability to share the proof as a result of the legal professional common on the time, Jeff Sessions, refused to preclude looking for the dying penalty, as usually occurs in such instances since Britain has abolished it.
In August, nevertheless, Mr. Barr sought to resolve the deadlock by reversing the coverage and telling Britain that the United States wouldn’t search to execute the 2 males. The British courts swiftly permitted the federal government to share the proof — clearing the way in which for his or her switch to American soil for the case to start.
Prosecuting international terrorists in civilian court docket, as soon as frequent below the Obama administration, has change into uncommon below the Trump administration. Mr. Sessions had attacked that method whereas he was nonetheless a Republican senator from Alabama, portraying it as tender on terrorism and declaring that such suspects needs to be held as army combatants and tried at Guantánamo Bay.
But the army commissions trial system at Guantánamo has proved dysfunctional, and there have been extra authorized issues raised by the prospect of holding members of ISIS — versus Al Qaeda — there with out trial.
Britain additionally didn’t need to share proof to be used at Guantánamo, and the victims’ members of the family pressed as an alternative for prosecutions in civilian court docket, to keep away from the danger that some would see the lads as human-rights martyrs and since civilian courts have proved to be far simpler in observe.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, who labored carefully with the Foley household and pushed to have the 2 detainees dropped at trial in civilian court docket relatively than a army fee, hailed the costs as “a giant step towards justice.”
“The families of the Americans murdered by ISIS finally have their day in court on the horizon,” she stated in a press release. “Through a thorough trial with all evidence presented, the United States has an opportunity to deliver real justice and honor the memories of James, Peter, Steven and Kayla.”