A member of the British ISIS terrorist group known as the Beatles pleaded guilty in a US courtroom on Thursday to assisting the Islamic State militant group to torture and murder prisoners in Syria, including four Americans.
Alexanda Kotey pleaded guilty to all charges before a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. US authorities said he and another UK ISIS member, El Shafee Elsheikh, were involved in kidnapping international hostages, including US auxiliaries Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Kotey and Elsheikh have each been charged with fatal hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder US citizens abroad, and conspiracy to provide material aid to terrorists. According to the public prosecutor’s office, both men face life imprisonment.
Judge T.S. Ellis III asked Kotey to approach the dais and remove his mask. When the judge asked Kotey if he pleaded guilty on counts one through eight, Kotey said, “Yes.” He also said he is aware that the minimum sentence he faces is life without parole.
As part of his plea, Kotey must have meetings with the family members of the murdered hostages. After serving in the US for 15 years, the UK is allowed to bring him to justice. Even though he was sentenced to a lesser sentence by a British court, his consent obliges him to spend his life behind bars.
Family members of all four Americans were in court to hear Kotey’s plea, but declined the judge’s offer to speak in court.
Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a group of four British men led by Mohammed Emwazi, who is believed to have murdered Foley and Sotloff in videotaped beheadings. The four men have been linked to more than two dozen murders.
Emwazi – who was called “Jihadi John” – was killed in 2015 by Hellfire missiles launched from a CIA drone.
Some of the ISIS hostages who managed to escape said they named the four men “The Beatles” because of their British accent. The fourth “Beatle”, Aine Lesley Davis, was sentenced in 2017 to seven and a half years in prison in a Turkish prison.
Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by Kurdish forces in 2018 and handed over to the American military in 2019.
The rendition of the men to the US for trial was delayed by legal proceedings in the UK. The UK authorities said they would be prohibited from handing over to the US any evidence obtained from their investigators.
A British judge lifted the information-sharing ban after the US promised to remove the death penalty as a possible punishment, paving the way for US law enforcement.
They were held in Iraq for months until they were flown to Virginia in October 2020 to face federal charges.
According to Kotey and Elsheikh’s indictment, the two men were “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking program” from 2012 to 2015 and “engaged in an ongoing pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages”.
Eastern District of Virginia prosecutors said the two men inflicted pain, suffering and cruelty, including being forced to witness murders, mock executions and shock with an electrical device.
Kotey confirmed in court on Thursday that he had promised himself to IS.
Kotey and Elsheikh both pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges in October 2020. At the hearing on Thursday, Kotey changed his pleading guilty. Kotey’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Elsheikh’s lawyer, who did not change his plea, declined to comment.
American and British authorities said the group was responsible for 27 murders, including the beheadings of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig, as well as British unskilled workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
US officials said that American unskilled worker Kayla Mueller was detained with a senior ISIS official and raped by former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi killed himself with a suicide vest when he was followed by American commandos during a raid in northwest Syria last fall.
Kotey and Elsheikh admit role in Mueller captivity
Müller is said to have died in a Jordanian air strike in 2015. How she was killed has never been confirmed.
In a 2018 interview with the BBC, while in the care of Kurdish officials, Kotey and Elsheikh had denied ever meeting Müller.
“Who?” Elsheikh replied when asked if he had ever met her.
“We haven’t met any foreign non-Muslims,” added Kotey.
But in interviews obtained exclusively from NBC News, the two men first admitted their involvement in Mueller’s captivity.
Kotey said, “She was alone in a room no one would go into.”
Elsheikh elaborated and said, “I took an email from her myself,” which means he was given an email address that the Islamic State militant group could use to demand ransom from the family. “She was in a big room, it was dark and she was alone and … she was very scared.”
In an email verified by NBC News, ISIS asked the Mueller family to pay 5 million euros and threatened that they would send the family “a picture of Kayla’s body” if the demands were not met.
Both Kotey and Elsheikh also admitted beating prisoners in interviews received by NBC News.
“I never denied they were ever met,” said Kotey of the hostages. As an example, he spoke of punching a Danish prisoner in the chest to make a mark that would be visible on a photo sent to his family.
Elsheikh has also become involved in the abuse of American journalist James Foley. “I didn’t choke Jim,” he said. “If I choked Jim, I would say I choked him. I mean, I’ve – I’ve hit him before. I’ve beaten most of the prisoners before. “