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Member of Islamic State group ‘Beatles’ cell plans to plead guilty in abuse of hostages

Alexanda Kotey was part of an Islamic State group cell of four Britons called “the Beatles” — a nickname bestowed by their victims because of their accents — and known for their extreme brutality.

By: New York Times | Washington |
September 3, 2021 9:33:25 am
Alexanda Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured by an American-backed Kurdish militia in Syria in early 2018. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

Written by: Charlie Savage and Katie Benner

A notorious British member of the Islamic State group who is facing federal charges over accusations that he helped jail and tortured Western hostages is preparing to plead guilty, according to a court notice filed late Tuesday.

A terse filing in the public docket for the case against the man, Alexanda Kotey, announced the scheduling of a “change-of-plea hearing” for 5:30 pm Thursday before the judge overseeing the case, TS Ellis III of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He had initially pleaded not guilty.

Kotey was part of an Islamic State group cell of four Britons called “the Beatles” — a nickname bestowed by their victims because of their accents — and known for their extreme brutality. Some of the group’s victims were beheaded for propaganda videos, including American journalists James Foley and Steven J Sotloff. Their bodies have not been found.

Ali Soufan, a former FBI counterterrorism agent who has been working closely with families of Islamic State group victims, said the change of plea suggested that Kotey might be willing to provide details about what happened.

“A plea agreement means he is likely cooperating,” said Soufan, who has helped victims investigate what happened and lobbied the Trump-era Justice Department to prosecute Kotey and another captured British Islamic State group member, El Shafee Elsheikh, in civilian court. “During our investigation, we found that Kotey was involved at every stage of the hostage-taking. He knows what happened to them and what they endured in ISIS custody. His cooperation should shed light on this.”

Raj Parekh, one of the prosecutors on the case who is also now overseeing it as the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, declined to comment. Geremy Kamens, the federal public defender for the district, who is overseeing the defence, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kotey and Elsheikh were captured in Syria in 2018 by an American-backed Kurdish militia. The US military took custody of them in 2019.

After a lengthy debate inside the Trump administration over what to do with them — including the possibility of turning them over to the Iraqis or taking them to the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — they were brought to Virginia to face charges before a civilian court last year.

Both initially pleaded not guilty. Since then, the case has been in pretrial hearings. Elsheikh has apparently not changed his plea.

Another member of the onetime British cell — Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John — was killed in an airstrike in 2015 in Syria. Emwazi was believed to have killed Foley and Sotloff, as well as Peter Kassig, an aid worker.

The fourth member, Aine Davis, has been imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges.

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