Isis 'Beatles' moved from Syrian prison to face trial in US
Move follows Turkey’s military invasion of part of northern Syria where suspects were held
Two British men accused of being part of a notorious Isis cell dubbed “the Beatles” and which were filmed executing hostages, have been transferred into US custody to be tried in America.
The men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, had been among hundreds of suspected Isis figures being held in Kurdish-operated jails inside Syria.
After the US gave the green light for Turkey to controversially enter Syria and attack those Kurdish forces who had backed the west’s efforts against Isis, there were also concerns as to what would happen to the prisoners, including those of high value.
Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump defended the decision to agree to allow Turkey’s military operation – which kicked off earlier in the day – claiming Turkey and Syria had been fighting each other “for centuries”.
Without naming them, he also said a number of important prisoners had been transferred out of that area.
“We are taking some of the most dangerous Isis fighters out and we’re putting them in different locations where it’s secure,” he said, while criticising European nations for not dealing with Isis suspects who were its citizens.
“We are taking them out and putting them in different locations, where it’s secure. We have a certain number of Isis fighters that are particularly bad, and we wanted to make sure that nothing happened with them in respect to getting out.”
Asked about the possible regrouping of Isis, he said: “The Kurds are watching, and if the Kurds don’t watch, Turkey will watch. They don’t want those people out anymore than we do.”
Asked if he was concerned about some Isis fighters escaping, Mr Trump said: “Well they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go. They want to go back to their homes.”
It was subsequently reported by multiple US media outlets that Elsheikh and Kotey were among those removed and taken into US custody in Iraq. The Washington Post said up to 40 suspected Isis prisoners who were being held in a number of small prisons in northeast Syria that were overseen by Kurdish figures and US and UK special forces, had been removed.
The two men along with other British jihadis, allegedly made up the Isis cell nicknamed “The Beatles” by surviving captives because of their English accents. In 2014 and 2015, the militants held more than 20 Western hostages in Syria and tortured many of them.
It beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers, boasting of the butchery in videos posted on social media.
Earlier this year, in an interview from the prison where they were being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), they denied being members of the group headed by the executioner “Jihadi John”.
Elsheikh and Kotey told the Associated Press they were the victims of “propaganda” and would not receive a fair trial.
Asked about the beheadings of hostages, Kotey claimed many fellow Isis fighters “would have disagreed” with the killings “in the grounds that there is probably more benefit in them being political prisoners”.
“As for my position, I didn’t see any benefit,” he added. “It was something that was regrettable.”
The plight of the two men has been a cause of intense debate in the UK. Lawyers for the men this summer argued before Britain’s Supreme Court that they should be tried there and not the US.
The demand, lodged by Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli, was triggered by concerns they could be executed if tried and convicted in the US. Traditionally, the UK only extradites prisoners to the US if there is an agreement there is no chance of them facing the death penalty.
During his comments at the White House, Mr Trump said he had spoken with prime minister Boris Johnson at some length and that “they’ll be doing certain things for us”. There was no immediate response on Wednesday from Downing Street, the foreign office or lawyers for the men.
While reports said the two men are being held by the US military, the Post quoted an anonymous US official as saying the goal was to put them on trial in the US.
It said a prosecution in the US rested on the ability to obtain evidence from British authorities. This summer, the UK Supreme Court heard that Britain’s crown prosecution service believed there was sufficient evidence to charge Kotey with eight offences of hostage-taking and five of murder, and to prosecute Elsheikh for membership of a terrorist organisation.
Additional reporting by agencies