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Illustration by Security Management

ISIS Militants Charged with Deaths of American Hostages

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh with the deaths of journalist James Foley and three other American hostages in Syria.

The two terrorist militants for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) were formally charged in U.S. federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on 7 October.

Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a foursome nicknamed by hostages as “The Beatles,” due to their British accents and either former or current UK citizenship. The other two members of the group were Mohamed Emwazi, who was killed in a U.S. military airstrike in November 2015, and Aine Davis, who is imprisoned in a Turkish facility.

The four militants allegedly participated in a hostage-taking plot that led to the deaths of the four American citizens, along with the deaths of British and Japanese nationals. Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi may have worked closely with a now-deceased ISIS commander and spokesperson to plan the kidnappings and other plots, according to a DOJ press release.

The men were allegedly involved in abductions between 2012 and 2015 of American and European nationals, physically and psychologically abusing their hostages. From August to October of 2014, ISIS released videos of the beheadings of Foley, Steven Sotloff (another American journalist), and two British nationals: David Haines and Alan Henning.

In November 2014 and January 2015, ISIS released videos showing the beheadings of American aid worker Peter Kassig and two Japanese citizens. The death of Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker, was confirmed in an email from ISIS fighters to her family in February 2015.

“[Kotey and Elsheikh’s] alleged acts have shattered the lives of four American families,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “What each these families have sought more than anything else is for these defendants to have their day in court.… While we cannot return their loved ones or undo the pain that these families face each day, we can do everything possible to ensure that the defendants are held accountable for their alleged savage actions.”

Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018 while they were trying to escape to Turkey. They were held in Iraq by U.S. military services until they were flown to the United States on Wednesday. 

This is the first time the U.S. judicial system will attempt to hold ISIS militants responsible for the murder of American citizens, according to The Washington Post. Both Kotey and Elsheikh are charged with conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death; four counts of hostage taking resulting in death; conspiracy to murder; and conspiracy to materially support a foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. They are also facing a maximum penalty of life in prison. (United States of America v. Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 20-cr-239, 2020)