Alleged Islamic State 'Beatles' arrive in U.S. to face charges of hostage deaths
From Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two suspected Islamic State militants known as the "Beatles" arrived in the United States on Wednesday to face trial for their alleged involvement in the beheading of American hostages in Syria.
The alleged militants Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were under the US military guard in Iraq last year and are now in federal custody. They appeared via video link at a federal court hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, late Wednesday afternoon.
Eastern Virginia Attorney General Zachary Terwilliger said after appearing in court, "Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee ElSheikh first appeared in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. They have been informed of the charges against them." "
Terwilliger added that families of American victims of the accused militants should know that "there is now a certainty that ISIS will not have the final say. When it comes to your children, you will."
Additional hearings on the case, including a hearing and trial, are scheduled for Friday.
Kotey and Elsheikh grew up in the UK and are UK citizens, but the UK government has withdrawn their citizenship. Because of their British accents, they are suspected of membership in a four-person Islamic state cell known as the "Beatles".
This group is said to have arrested or killed Western hostages, including US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and helpers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. The cell has become notorious for allegedly participating in Islamic State graphic videos posted online showing the beheadings of foreign hostages.
"These allegations are the result of many years of hard work seeking justice for our citizens murdered by ISIS. While we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families and for all Americans," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
In order to secure British assistance in obtaining evidence for the couple, Barr agreed that under no circumstances would the U.S. prosecutors petition them for the death penalty or carry out executions if they were imposed.
"Your ringleader, Mohamed Emwazi (known as Jihadi John), faced a different kind of American resolve - the mighty reach of our military, which successfully targeted him in an airstrike a few years ago," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers a press conference.
The 24-page indictment contains a long list of tortures accused of inflicting prisoners on their prisoners, including electric shock with a taser to force hostages to fight each other, 20-minute beating with sticks and waterboarding.
Among the specific murders was the indictment involving Kotey and Elsheikh, that of Müller, who was seized and imprisoned by Islamic State militants in August 2013. The indictment states that from around October 2014 Müller was sexually abused by the late Islamic head of state Abu, Bakr al Baghdadi, held in Syria.
Mueller's family received an email from Islamic State fighters in February 2014 confirming their death in Syria, the indictment said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the Islamic State was still trying to radicalize people in the United States and elsewhere.
"Their goal is to motivate people to launch attacks on Western targets wherever they are by whatever means they can," Wray said.
Wray and Demers said the support of the UK government was critical to moving the investigation and prosecution forward.
The families of Foley, Kassig, Mueller and Sotloff welcomed the news.
"James, Peter, Kayla and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria," they said in a joint statement.
"Now our families can take responsibility for these crimes against our children in a US court."
The indictment lists four cases of hostage-taking for the deaths of Kotey and Elsheikh, as well as four other cases of conspiracy for murder and support for terrorists. If convicted, Kotey and Elsheikh could face life in prison.
Terwilliger said the two defendants had asked for lawyers to be appointed to defend them and lawyers had been appointed. He said the defendants would be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali; Editing by Mary Milliken, Rosalba O'Brien and David Gregorio)
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