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Islamic State Fighters Arrive to U.S. for Prosecution


El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey ‘engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence’ against hostages, the indictment says.

Photo: Hussein Malla/Associated Press

Two British Islamic State fighters accused in the torture and killing of Western hostages were brought to the U.S. to face criminal charges in Virginia, U.S. authorities said Wednesday, after more than two years of legal limbo after their capture in Syria.

The men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, who had allegedly supervised Islamic State detention facilities that held hostages, were scheduled to make their initial appearances in court in Alexandria, Va. on Wednesday afternoon. The Justice Department told the British government in August it wouldn’t pursue the death penalty against them, paving the way for their prosecution in the U.S.

The two men are accused of being part of a brutal cell that beheaded U.S. citizens in Syria in 2014 and early 2015, and were captured by Kurdish fighters in Syria in 2018. They have been in U.S. military custody since last year, after they had been held in a battlefield prison in northeastern Syria. Their prisoners referred to the cell members, which allegedly included two other Islamic State fighters, as the “Beatles” because of their British backgrounds.

The men “engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages,” the indictment said. They face eight criminal counts including hostage-taking resulting in death, conspiring to murder Americans outside the U.S., and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, according to the indictment dated Tuesday and unsealed Wednesday.

The men are accused in the beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig, and the killing of volunteer Kayla Mueller.

“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement, referring to Islamic State by an acronym. “Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans.”

A British court had earlier blocked authorities from sharing key evidence in the case against Islamic State fighters because the Trump administration hadn’t provided assurances about not pursuing the death penalty.

In his August letter to his U.K. counterpart, Mr. Barr said the men would be transferred to Iraq for prosecution in the Iraqi justice system unless British authorities provided assistance by Oct. 15.

Between 2012 and 2015, the indictment alleges, Messrs. Kotey and Elsheikh committed murders and forced others to witness them, forced hostages to fight each other, engaged in beatings with punches and sticks that lasted up to 20 minutes, waterboarded some hostages and denied bathroom access, in addition to other punishments.

Britain abolished capital punishment for all crimes in 1998 and typically seeks assurances the death penalty won’t be used when assisting foreign governments with prosecutions.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at

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