The us has charged two british isis militants accused of abducting american, uk and other foreign nationals in syria, including several who were brutally executed for propaganda videos.
Alexanda kotey and el shafee elsheikh were allegedly members of a notorious isis cell that abducted foreigners in syria and were nicknamed the beatles because of their british accents.
The group included mohammed emwazi, who beheaded several of the hostages on camera and was killed in an us drone strike five years ago. mr kotey and mr elsheikh were captured in syria in 2018 and transferred to us military custody in iraq last year.
They were expected to appear in federal court in the us on wednesday after the department of justice secured crucial evidence from the uk, in return for ruling out the death penalty if the men were convicted.
Among the alleged victims of mr kotey and mr elsheikh were four american citizens jim foley, steven sotloff, peter kassig and kayla mueller. the justice department alleged on wednesday that the duo had engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages.
The charges comes after years of wrangling between the us and european nations over the fate of foreign nationals who travelled to syria to join isis. the white house has criticised the uk and other european countries for refusing to take responsibility for repatriating and prosecuting their foreign fighters.
Last year president donald trump, when announcing the death of isis leader abu bakr al-baghdadi, said the response of european nations was a tremendous disappointment.
The uk home office had taken action to prevent mr kotey and mr elsheikh from returning home to britain by stripping them of their uk citizenship.
On wednesday, us justice department officials struck a different tone. john demers, the head of the national security division, said the us would take take responsibility for prosecuting non-us citizens who had harmed americans where it had the evidence to do so.
If you have american blood in your veins, or you have american blood on your hands, you will face american justice, he said at a press conference.
Mr kotey and mr elsheikh are not accused of killing hostages themselves. rather, the duo are alleged to have helped abduct western hostages between 2 and co-ordinated ransom negotiations. they are also alleged to have helped set up and film executions, though emwazi, also known as jihadi john, ultimately committed the murders.
In one instance in 2014, when emwazi killed a syrian hostage, the isis fighters brought western hostages to observe the killing, according to the indictment.
Kotey and elsheikh knew and understood this execution was part of the hostage negotiation process, the indictment alleged. kotey instructed the [western] 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.
After the execution, kotey, elsheikh, and emwazi returned the european hostages to the prison with elsheikh telling one hostage, youre next, according to the indictment
If convicted, mr kotey and mr elsheikh could face life imprisonment. a fourth british member of the group is incarcerated in turkey.
Maha elgizouli, mr elsheikhs mother, had pursued a long-running legal campaign to prevent the two britons being tried in the us.
In march, the uk supreme court upheld her case, ruling it would be unlawful for the home office to co-operate in the us prosecution on the basis that the alleged terrorists would face the death penalty if convicted.
William barr, the us attorney-general, broke the legal deadlock in august by agreeing to rule out the use of the death penalty in order to access british evidence.
Mr demers on wednesday said the evidence from the uk had helped the us to tell the fullest story we could of what these defendants did and to put on the strongest case possible.
With the british evidence, i think we can do that very well, he said.