Saturday, January 16, 2021

My Threatcon Column: Breaking Up The Band: Two Of Four ISIS 'Beatles' Charged With Deaths Of Americans


My online Threatcon column was posted on Counterterrorism magazine’s website:

Like the world-famous musical band, the ISIS terrorist foursome known as “The Beatles” has broken up.

With their English accents and British background, the four terrorists have been called “The Beatles” facetiously. The men were British citizens but were stripped of their citizenship when they traveled to Syria to join ISIS.

The British agreed to hand over the accused terrorists and provide evidence against them, but the British government insisted that the U.S. agree not to pursue the death penalty in order for the men to be brought to the US to face justice. 

Two of the four terrorists are in American custody and are charged with hostage-taking of American citizens in Syria and other terrorism offenses that resulted in the deaths of James Wright Foley, Steven Joel Sotloff, Peter Edward Kassig, and Kayla Jean Mueller. The two have pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

On October 7th the U.S. Justice Department announced that Alexanda Amon Kotey, 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, two militant fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization were expected to be in the U.S. and in FBI custody on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.

“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS. Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Our message to other terrorists around the world is this — if you harm Americans, you will face American arms on the battlefield or American law in our courtrooms. Either way, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray added, “Today, we remember the victims, Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller, and their families who are forever affected by these senseless acts of violence. These families have suffered withthe painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers;today's charges demonstrate the FBI's dedication and commitment to giving them the justice they deserve.”

According to the indictment, from 2012 to 2015, Kotey, Elsheikh, Mohamed Emwazi (who is dead), and a fourth British citizen currently incarcerated in Turkey, were ISIS fighters and participated in the abduction of American and European hostages in Syria. The men also allegedly engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages, including against American citizens James Wright Foley, Kayla Jean Mueller, Steven Joel Sotloff, and Peter Edward Kassig.

From August 2014 through October 2014, ISIS released videos depicting Emwazi’s brutal beheadings of Foley, Sotloff, and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning. In November 2014, ISIS released a video depicting the decapitated head of Kassig. In January 2015, ISIS released videos with images of two dead Japanese citizens.

According to the indictment, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi, worked closely with Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, a former leading ISIS commander and chief media spokesperson. Until he was killed in a United States military airstrike in August 2016, Adnani reported directly to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former self-proclaimed leader of ISIS. Baghdadi was killed during a United States military operation in Syria in October 2019.

The indictment alleges that Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi ran detention facilities that held hostages and engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages. Kotey and Elsheikh also coordinated the Western-hostage ransom negotiations conducted by email. The release of American and other hostages was conditioned on the transfer of large sums of money or concessions from the United States government, such as the release of Muslim prisoners.

Kotey and Elsheikh are each charged with conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death; four counts of hostage taking resulting in death; conspiracy to murder United States citizens outside of the United States; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists — hostage taking and murder — resulting in death; and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We welcome the transfer of the ISIS ‘Beatles’ to the United States to stand trial in a court of law,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on October 7th. “The United States will not rest until these alleged terrorists are held accountable for their crimes and justice is delivered to their victims’ families.”

Unlike John, Paul, George and Ringo, few are saddened by the breakup of the ISIS “Beatles.”

Paul Davis’ Threatcon column covers crime, espionage, terrorism and other national security issues.


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