Kotey is one of four members of the Islamic State who were called “the Beatles” by their prisoners because of their British accent. He and another man, El Shafee Elsheikh, were brought to the US last year to face charges after the US assured Britain that neither would face the death penalty.
Elsheikh is due to be tried in January. A third Beatle, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John”, was killed in a drone attack in 2015. A fourth member is serving a prison sentence in Turkey.
The plea deal provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without parole. After 15 years, however, he would be entitled to be transferred to the UK to face all sorts of charges.
In the plea deal, he admits that life sentences are also appropriate in the UK. If he is sentenced there to a sentence shorter than life, the deal provides that he will either serve the remainder of his life sentence in the UK, if that country does, or be returned to the US to serve the life sentence.
The deal also requires him to cooperate with the authorities and answer questions about his time in the IS group. However, he would not be required to testify at Elsheikh’s trial.
The deal also requires him to meet with the victims’ families if they so choose.
Kotey gave a somewhat detailed account of his time in the Islamic State when U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis asked him to explain in his own words what he had done.
He said he had traveled to Syria “to wage a military battle against the Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad” and that he had finally pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“I accept that I am perceived as a radical who takes extremist views,” he said.
He admitted that he had participated in “capture-and-intain operations” to kidnap Foley and other Western hostages and that he led efforts to demand ransom.
He described the violence inflicted on the hostages as a necessary part of keeping them in check and convincing Western governments to pay ransom.
In the years following the murder of the hostages, he held several roles within the Islamic State, including as a sniper and as head of a training camp for special forces.
Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said at the hearing on Thursday that Kotey, Elsheikh and Emwazi were all young friends in London where they became radicalized.
In a statement, Raj Parekh, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who also serves on the prosecution on the Kotey and Elsheikh cases, said the case has always been dedicated to the victims and their families. He added: “Their resilience, courage and persistence have ensured that terror never has the last word. The justice, fairness and humanity this defendant experienced in the United States are in stark contrast to the cruelty, inhumanity and indiscriminate violence “touted by the terrorist organization he supports.”
Mueller was also raped by the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to the indictment. Al-Baghdadi was killed by US forces in Syria in 2019.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in 2018 when they tried to flee to Turkey.
Family members of all four victims attended the hearing on Thursday and then stood outside the courthouse with prosecutors. You will have the opportunity to speak at Kotey’s formal sentencing on March 4th.
James Foley’s mother, Diane, said she was grateful for the conviction and praised prosecutors for getting a detailed account of Kotey’s guilt.
“This accountability is essential if our country is to prevent hostage-taking,” she said. Diane Foley also called on the US government to give priority to the return of all Americans detained abroad.