British-born Islamic State suspect set to plead guilty to charges in US

One of two British-born men charged in the US with joining Islamic State and conspiring to torture and behead American and European hostages in Syria is scheduled to plead guilty to criminal charges.

Court records show a change of plea hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in a district court in Alexandria, Virginia, for Alexanda Amon Kotey, one of four IS members who were nicknamed “the Beatles” by their captives because of their British accents.

Kotey and another man, El Shafee Elsheikh, were brought to the US last year to face charges, having been stripped of their UK citizenship. In order to obtain their extradition, the Department of Justice promised that neither defendant would face a death sentence.

The court documents do not indicate the specific charge or charges to which Kotey is expected to plead. The indictment charges them in connection with the deaths of four American hostages – the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller – and those of European and Japanese nationals who also were held captive.

Nothing in the court records indicates that Elsheikh has reached a plea deal. Raj Parekh, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and a member of the prosecution team on the Kotey and Elsheikh cases, declined to comment on Tuesday evening. Geremy Kamens, a federal public defender who represents Kotey, also declined to comment.

A third “Beatle”, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John”, was killed in a 2015 drone strike. A fourth member is serving a prison sentence in Turkey.

The indictment says Kotey and Elsheikh became radicalised in London and left for Syria in 2012 as “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” that targeted American and European citizens and that involved murders, mock executions, shocks with stun guns, physical restraints and other brutal acts.

Prosecutors say the men worked closely with a chief spokesman for IS who reported to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a US military operation in 2019.

The indictment accuses Kotey and Elsheikh of participating in the kidnapping of Foley and other captives. It says they supervised detention facilities for hostages and were responsible for transferring the captives, and that they engaged “in a long pattern of physical and psychological violence”.

In July, prosecutors described the pair as “principal offenders” in the captivity of the four American hostages.

Assuming Thursday’s plea hearing goes forward as scheduled, Kotey and prosecutors would submit a statement of facts that will spell out in at least some detail the specific actions that he took.

The two were captured in Syria in 2018 by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape to Turkey. In interviews they gave before being brought to the US, the men acknowledged they helped collect email addresses from Mueller that could be used to send out ransom demands. Mueller was killed in 2015 after 18 months in IS captivity.

The indictment describes the execution of a Syrian prisoner in 2014 and says the two forced their western hostages to watch. Kotey instructed the hostages to kneel while watching the execution and holding signs pleading for their release. Emwazi shot the prisoner in the back of the head while Elsheikh videoed the execution. Elsheikh told one of the hostages “you’re next”, prosecutors say.

Elsheikh is scheduled to go on trial in January.

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