US-UK row over fate of IS ‘Beatles’ fighters Kotey and Elsheikh
Britain and America are set for a diplomatic row over two captured Islamic State fighters who were part of a group dubbed “The Beatles”.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured several days ago in Syria by Kurdish forces.
They were wanted in connection with the torture and beheading of dozens of people – including US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines.
The murder squad they were part of, which also included Mohammed Emwazi – known as “Jihadi John” – and Aine Davis, was nicknamed “The Beatles” because of the jihadists’ English accents.
All four are believed to have grown up in the same part of west London.
Last week, it was reported the Home Office had taken the unusual step of stripping both Kotey and Elsheikh of their UK citizenship, which was said to have made it a lot less likely they will be returned to Britain to face trial.
However, the US is putting pressure on international partners to take back foreign Islamic State fighters captured in the Middle East.
Pentagon official Kathy Wheelbarger, who will join US defence secretary James Mattis at a summit in Rome on Tuesday, said: “We are working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees and generally expect those detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”
The American position is set to be resisted by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who will also attend the gathering in Italy.
The Cabinet minister has said he does not think Kotey and Elsheikh “should ever set foot in this country again”.
Tobias Ellwood, a minister in Mr Williamson’s department, has suggested captured jihadists should be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, although the US does not recognise the court.
The Tory MP criticised the previous sending of terror detainees to Guantanamo Bay, which Donald Trump has vowed to keep open.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd promised Kotey and Elsheikh will “face justice” but refused to say where they will be brought before a court.
She told Sky News: “The important thing is that these two people face justice. We will always make sure it’s properly coordinated and that they face justice.”
Asked whether the pair are still British, Ms Rudd said she “can’t comment on individual cases” but added: “We will always make sure that we keep everyone safe”.
However, a Whitehall source said: “The day these barbaric terrorists turned their back on this country in pursuit of an evil agenda of bloodshed and slaughter, they forfeited forever their right to return.
“They are not British subjects and should pay the price for their crimes in Syria.”
Diane Foley, whose son James was beheaded in 2014, hopes Kotey and Elsheikh will be put on trial and sent to prison for life.
She said sending them to Guantanamo Bay would be a huge mistake.
David Haines’ wife, Dragana Prodanovic, also called for the pair to face a fair trial.
She told Sky News: “There is no moral satisfaction. I hope they will go through a fair trial and get the sentence they deserve – a life in prison – and not in a hotel, not in a very nice prison with all the commodities, but solitary.”
Kotey and Elsheikh are said to have been trying to escape to Turkey at the time they were picked up by US-backed Syrian forces.
A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said a decision on whether the men would be tried in Syria or elsewhere would be made once their own investigation into the pair had concluded.