Two British terrorist suspects have appeared in a US court for beheading Western hostages.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are charged with participating in a “brutal hostage-taking program” that killed four American citizens and British and Japanese nationals in Syria.
The couple, who grew up in London, are believed to have been part of a cell of executioners known as The Beatles because of their British accents. It was videotaped from prison at a federal court hearing in Alexandria, Virginia.
During the hearing, a handcuffed Elsheikh wearing a green T-shirt and blue surgical mask asked if he was arrested and was informed by the judge.
When asked whether he would like to hire his own lawyer or have one appointed, the 32-year-old said: “I don’t know. I didn’t have time to consult.”
The 36-year-old Kotey also asked about his status and said: “I’m just waiting to be informed about what’s going on. It’s all kind of alien to me.”
The eight-count charge was announced by the US Department of Justice prior to the trial. John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, alleged the couple would be “tried for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment”.
The cell, which allegedly consists of ringleaders Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, Aine Davis, Kotey and Elsheikh, is believed to be responsible for the killing of a number of Western prisoners, including British Alan Henning and David Haines.
Many of the deaths were filmed in graphic detail by the so-called Islamic State and broadcast around the world.
Haines, 44, from Perth, Scotland, was beheaded in Syria in 2014 after being held captive for 18 months.
Henning, a 47-year-old Lancashire taxi driver, was also beheaded in 2014 after being captured by extremists in Syria.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence for life in prison.
According to the 24-page indictment, they are each charged with:
– Conspiracy to take hostages resulting in death
– Four fatal hostage-taking cases (relating to American victims James Foley, Kayla Mueller, Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig)
– Conspiracy to assassinate United States citizens outside of the United States
– Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists – hostage-taking and murder – resulting in death
– Conspiracy to provide material aid to a specific foreign terrorist organization resulting in death.
Emwazi was killed in a US air strike in 2015, while Davis was later imprisoned in Turkey.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018 and transferred to the custody of the US military in Iraq in October 2019, which has been under American custody since then.
The couple are believed to have participated in a demonstration outside the US embassy in London in 2011 and were arrested in support of the 9/11 attacks. They traveled to Syria the following year.
Last month, a High Court ruling allowed the UK to share case information with US authorities calling the families of alleged British victims a “big deal”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said they were “delighted that the process of justice for victims and their families in the US has begun after British evidence has been submitted”.