Two British men who were dubbed ‘the Beatles’ and accused of helping the Islamic State militant group torture and murder captives in Syria — including four Americans — were brought to the United States on Wednesday to face terrorism and murder conspiracy charges.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were expected to appear in the Alexandria, Virginia federal court remotely via video conference. U.S. authorities said they were involved in the kidnappings of international hostages, including U.S. aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Mueller was tortured and sexually abused before her death in 2015. The two British men admitted their involvement in holding her captive in an interview obtained by NBC News, which aired in July. They also admitted beating Foley.
“This feels miraculous,” James’ mother Diane Foley told British press on Wednesday.
“This is a huge step forward and hopefully these men will implicate others and give us information about where the remains of our children are,” she said, thanking governments “on all sides of the Atlantic” for pursuing this “first step in justice.”
Court documents said that throughout the captivity of the Americans and others, “Kotey and Elsheikh supervised detention facilities holding the hostages and were responsible for transferring them between detention facilities.” The men engaged “in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages.”
Zach Terwilliger, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said they inflicted pain, suffering and cruelty, including forced witnessing of murders, mock executions and shocks to the body with an electrical device.
The two were part of a group of four British men, authorities said, led by Mohammed Emwazi, who is believed to have murdered Foley in a beheading recorded on video. Emwazi — who was dubbed “Jihadi John” — was killed by Hellfire missiles fired from a CIA drone in 2015.
Some of the ISIS hostages who managed to escape said they named the four men “The Beatles” because of their British accents. The fourth, Aine Lesley Davis, was sentenced to serve seven and a half years in a Turkish prison in 2017.
American and British authorities said the men were responsible for 27 killings, including the beheadings of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig, as well as of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
Kotey and Elsheikh have denied involvement in the killings and torture in previous interviews, describing themselves as “liaisons” between the hostages and more senior members of ISIS, like Emwazi.
In the interviews obtained by NBC News, Kotey and Elsheikh gave new details about Mueller’s time in captivity. “I took an email from her myself.” Officials said it was used to send a ransom demand to her family.
“She was in a large room, it was dark and she was alone, and … she was very scared,” Elsheikh said in the interview.
Captured by Kurdish forces in 2018, Kotey and Elsheikh were turned over to the American military last year and have been in U.S. custody in Iraq amid questions over how and when they will face justice.
The families of the Americans killed by ISIS said in a joint statement Wednesday they were relieved that the two men have been brought to the U.S. for trial.
“James, Peter, Kayla, and Steven were kidnapped, tortured, beaten, starved, and murdered by members of the Islamic State in Syria. Now our families can pursue accountability for these crimes against our children in U.S. court,” their statement said.
The transfer of the men to the U.S. for trial was delayed by legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. British authorities said they were barred from turning evidence over to the U.S. that was obtained by their investigators. A U.K. judge lifted the ban on sharing information, paving the way for prosecution in the U.S.
Adela Suliman contributed.