Kurdish fighters in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have captured the last two members of a notorious Islamic State cell known for carrying out brutal torture and executions of Western prisoners, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The militia group, abbreviated SDF, detained Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh in eastern Syria, reports the New York Times, citing government officials who spoke on background. The men were the last at-large members of a group of ISIS fighters from the United Kingdom dubbed “The Beatles” for their conspicuous British accents.
It remains unclear exactly when Kotey and Elsheikh were captured, but American officials were informed in mid-January that the duo might have been detained by the SDF. The men were handed over to U.S. special operations troops in Syria, who used fingerprints and other biometric data to identify them.
The British ISIS militants were known for their extreme brutality in handling Western prisoners. They subjected hostages held in the group’s former “capital” of Raqqa to beatings, waterboarding and mock executions. More disturbingly, the “Beatles” were featured in several of ISIS’ execution videos, which showed militants killing prisoners in horrifying ways, including by beheading and crucifixion.
The alleged ringleader of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa in 2015. Emwazi is believed to be the ISIS militant seen beheading American journalist James Foley in a 2014 video, one of several videos the group produced that year showing the killings of Westerners and U.S.-allied fighters. The U.S. government says Emwazi’s British cell beheaded at least 27 hostages.
The State Department named both Kotey, 34, and Elsheikh, 29, as specially designated terrorists in early 2017. Their capture presents Presdident Donald Trump’s administration with a politically fraught decision: transfer the men to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or bring them to the U.S. to face federal terrorism charges.
Several Trump administration officials including Attorney General Jeff Sessions have supported continuing to send terrorism suspects to Guantanamo. However, the families of the British cell’s victims are calling for Kotey and Elsheikh to stand trial.
James Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, told BBC Radio that she wants the men to face life imprisonment.
“Their crimes are beyond imagination,” she said.
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