Alleged Islamic State 'Beatles' headed to US on charges of hostage deaths

Two alleged Islamic State militants known as the 'Beatles' will arrive in the United States on Wednesday to face trial on US criminal charges for their alleged involvement in beheadings of American hostages in Syria, the US Department of Justice said.

The alleged militants, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, have been under US military guard in Iraq for the last year and are now in FBI custody. They are due to appear in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia later on Wednesday, officials said.

The two grew up in Britain and were UK citizens, but the British government withdrew their citizenship. They are suspected of membership in a four-strong Islamic State cell known as the 'Beatles' because of their British accents.

That group is alleged to have detained or killed Western hostages, including US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. The cell became notorious for their alleged participation in graphic Islamic State videos posted online showing beheadings of foreign hostages.

"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 in a statement.

In order to secure British help in obtaining evidence on the pair, Barr agreed that US prosecutors would not seek the death penalty in any cases against them and would not carry out executions if they were imposed.

"As for their ringleader, Mohamed Emwazi (infamously known as Jihadi John), he faced a different type of American resolve - the mighty reach of our military, which successfully targeted him in an airstrike several years ago," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told a news conference.

Pictures of the week: October 4- 10
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Pictures of the week: October 4- 10
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England's Danny Ings, laying on the pitch, scores his team's third goal, during the international friendly soccer match between England and Wales at Wembley stadium in London, Thursday Oct. 8, 2020. England won the match 3-0.(Glynn Kirk/Pool via AP)
Scotland's Kenny McLean, right, celebrates with Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall after scoring from a penalty shot during the Euro 2020 playoff semifinal soccer match between Scotland and Israel, at the Hampden stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Patrick Reed of The United States of America prepares to play his second shot on the 9th hole during Day One of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club on October 08, 2020 in Virginia Water, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
EDITORIAL USE ONLY Claire Whitaker OBE, Southampton UK City of Culture Bid Director (2nd right) and Councillor Satvir Kaur (3rd right) are joined by musicians Tyrone (left) and Warbz (right), dancer and artistic director Zoie Golding (2nd left) and chef Shelina Permalloo (3rd left) launch Southampton's bid to become the UK City of Culture 2025, outside Southampton's Bargate.
The London Eye on the south bank of the river Thames, as the sun rises, in London, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
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Tottenham Hotspur's Ria Percival, left, and London's Harley Bennett challenge for the ball during the women's Continental League Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and London City Lionesses in London, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Two swimmers run into the sea as the sun rises over Boscombe beach in Dorset. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
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A surfer makes their way into the sea as the sun starts to rise over Boscombe beach in Dorset. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Actress Jennifer Saunders, front center, and five colleagues carry out a 'silent stand' outside the Gielgud Theatre, London, Monday Oct. 5, 2020, on behalf of the UK theatre industry. The two minute stand is to show solidarity with those in the UK theatre industry who have lost their jobs and received no government support, to highlight the lack of government guidance for the reopening of theatres, an to ask the government to provide the industry with a date when theatres can reopen without social distancing. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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Kenya's Brigid Kosgei, left, and Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich race along Horseguards Parade during the London Marathon in London, England, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Athletes are competing on a 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) closed-loop course consisting of 19.6 clockwise laps around St. James' Park. The traditional course along the River Thames was scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic and only elite men and women are competing and no spectators are permitted. (Adam Davy/Pool via AP)
A van is stuck in flood water after the Padbury brook burst its banks near Buckingham, England, Monday Oct. 5, 2020. Heavy rain over the weekend has brought flooding and travel disruption to parts of Britain. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)
Cars make their way through a flooded road in Claudy, County Londonderry. The UK's wet weekend will continue as a weather warning for rain across parts of Wales and England has been extended.
Manchester United's manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts after Tottenham scored their sixth goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. (Oli Scarff/Pool via AP)
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Mark Smith 25228 seen running past Downing Street, London taking part in the Virgin Money Virtual London Marathon running for the St Lukes Hospice. (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

The 24-page indictment includes a lengthy list of tortures which it accuses the defendants of inflicting on their captives, including electric shocks with a taser, forcing hostages to fight each other, 20-minute beatings with sticks and waterboarding.

Among specific murders the indictment alleges Kotey and Elsheikh were involved in was that of Mueller, who was seized and detained by Islamic State militants in August 2013. The indictment says that beginning about October 2014, Mueller was sexually abused by the late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi while held captive in Syria.

Mueller's family received an email from Islamic State fighters in February 2014, confirming her death in Syria, the indictment says.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Islamic State is still trying to radicalise people in the United States and elsewhere.

"Their goal is to motivate people to launch attacks against Western targets wherever they are, using any means available," Wray said.

Wray and Demers said the support of the British 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 pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in a US court."

The indictment alleges four counts of hostage taking resulting in death against Kotey and Elsheikh and four more criminal counts of conspiracy to murder and to support terrorists. If convicted, Kotey and Elsheikh could face up to life in prison.

As of Wednesday morning, a law enforcement official said, Kotey and Elsheikh did not have lawyers. There is an expectation among prosecutors that at least initially they will be represented by federal public defenders.

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