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Justice indicts two members of ISIS 'Beatles' cell

Justice indicts two members of ISIS 'Beatles' cell
© AFP/Pool

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced an indictment against two British citizens accused of being part of an ISIS cell that beheaded Western hostages, including Americans.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, two members of the ISIS cell known as “The Beatles,” were charged with eight criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit hostage taking, hostage taking, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Their charges relate to the deaths of four Americans in Syria: James Foley, Peter Kassig, Steven Sotloff and Kayla Mueller.

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The announcement marks a key development in the U.S. holding ISIS accountable for terrorism, and senior Justice Department officials urged other countries to repatriate and prosecute their own citizens who are being held in custody in Iraq and Syria for alleged crimes committed within the terrorist organization. 

“The families of the victims have suffered the painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the charges. “While their pain may never subside, today, with the announcement of this indictment, we’re beginning to bring them the justice they deserve.”

The men are scheduled to make their initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va., later Wednesday.

“At that hearing, they will be informed of the charges against them. They will be provided with counsel if they cannot afford it. They will receive medical care and be housed in a sanitary facility and be provided with three meals a day, all coupled with the due process of law. All things denied to James, Kayla, Steven and Peter and the other British and Japanese victims named in the indictment,” said Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The ability of the U.S. to bring charges and extradite the British citizens was delayed for years, resting on key evidence gathered by U.K. authorities that was blocked by a British court from being shared with American authorities over concerns that U.S. justice officials not pursue the death penalty against the alleged terrorists. 

The U.K. abolished the death penalty in the 1960s. 

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Attorney General William BarrBill BarrNew DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Five federal inmates scheduled for execution before Inauguration Day MORE wrote to the U.K.’s Home Secretary Priti Patel in August that the U.S. would not seek the death penalty in its pursuit of charges against the two British men and Justice Department officials on Wednesday reiterated that promise. 

“The attorney general made that clear in his letters to the Home Secretary that he decided, on balance, that we would not be pursuing the death penalty in this case and that’s where we are,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said. 

“The Beatles” were a four-member ISIS cell named so by their prisoners because of their British accents.

The most infamous member, Mohamed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John,” was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2015. He was the masked man seen in videos of the beheadings carrying out the brutal act.

The fourth member of the cell is imprisoned in Turkey.

Elsheikh and Kotey are accused of forcing hostages to witness murders, conducting mock executions, shocking captives with an electric taser, beatings and other “brutal acts,” Terwilliger said.

The men have admitted being part of ISIS and being involved in captivity of hostages, but have denied involvement in the killings themselves.

The pair were captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2018 and were transferred to U.S. military custody in Iraq in 2019.

Justice officials called Wednesday's announcement a “good day but also a solemn one” and praised the families of the American victims for their resolve in the pursuit of the extradition of the British men. 

“We have been inspired by their memories and moved by the determination and grit of their families, families which will never rest until justice is done,” Demers said. “To them, I say this: neither will we.  Although we cannot bring back your children, we will do all that we can do: obtain justice for them, for you, and for all Americans.” 

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Biden wins New Hampshire MORE (D-N.H.) hailed Wednesday’s announcement as a “giant step towards justice.”

“These terrorists have been in legal limbo for years but thankfully that ambiguity is now over,” she said in a statement. “The families of the Americans murdered by ISIS finally have their day in court on the horizon. 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.”