US charges British IS members in deaths of American hostages
Two Islamic State militants from Britain were brought to the United States to face charges in a gruesome campaign of torture, beheadings and other acts of violence against four Americans and others captured and held hostage in Syria.
El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are two of four men who were dubbed “the Beatles” by the hostages because of the captors’ British accents.
The two men made their first appearance on Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where a federal grand jury issued an eight-count indictment that accuses them of being “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” that resulted in the deaths of Western hostages, including American journalist James Foley.
The charges are a milestone in a yearslong effort by US authorities to bring to justice members of the group known for beheadings and barbaric treatment of aid workers, journalists and other hostages in Syria.
Startling for their unflinching depictions of cruelty and violence, recordings of the murders were released online in the form of propaganda for a group that at its peak controlled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.
The case underscores the Justice Department’s commitment to prosecuting in American civilian court militants captured overseas, said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who vowed that other extremists “will be pursued to the ends of the earth.” The defendants’ arrival in the US sets the stage for one of the more sensational terrorism prosecutions in recent years.
“If you have American blood in your veins or American blood on your hands, you will face American justice,” said Demers, the department’s top national security official.
The two men made brief court appearances Wednesday via video hookup from the Alexandria jail, where they were appointed a federal defender. The attorney who heads that office declined to comment after the proceedings. A detention hearing and arraignment were set for Friday.
The indictment charges the men in connection with the deaths of four American hostages — Foley, journalist Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — as well as European and Japanese nationals who were also held captive.
The charges include hostage-taking resulting in death and other terrorism-related counts. Because of a recent concession by the Justice Department, prosecutors will not be seeking the death penalty.
The indictment characterises Kotey and Elsheikh, both of whom prosecutors say radicalized in London and left for Syria in 2012, as “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” that targeted American and European citizens and that involved murders, mock executions, shocks with tasers, physical restraints and other brutal acts.