- Video report by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo
A member of an ISIS cell known as ‘The Beatles’ is suspected of helping to organise a plot to execute soldiers and police officers in London while he was guarding western hostages 3,000 miles away in Raqqa, ITV News can reveal.
Alexanda Kotey from west London is thought to have been one of four British men who formed the notorious cell which was responsible for beheading western hostages in Syria. He was captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) earlier this year, and questioned about his role in the so-called caliphate.
But ITV News has learned that while in Syria, Kotey attempted to help organise a terrorist attack close to the London neighbourhood where he grew up.
The conspiracy to commit drive-by killings from the back of a moped in Shepherd’s Bush was foiled by Scotland Yard detectives, weeks after ‘The Beatles’ beheaded American journalist James Foley in Syria.
Kotey and other ISIS militants in Raqqa are suspected of guiding and funding the would-be attackers in the UK – helping to organise the plot ‘by remote control’.
He was in regular communication with medical student Tarik Hassane, a friend back home in London who was jailed at the Old Bailey in 2016 for his part in the plot. He was the ringleader of the four-man terror cell that had obtained a gun and silencer to carry out the plot to kill police officers, soldiers and civilians.
The scale of the data gathered by detectives working on the investigation – 22 terabytes of digital material amounting to two million files – made this case one of the most complex ever undertaken by Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command.
It took officers 44,834 hours to examine all the material. ITV News has learned that the digital haul included commands sent by senior ISIS fighters in Syria, indicating the plot was not only inspired by the terror group but directed by it.
A source who knew Kotey in Syria spoke to ITV News on condition of anonymity. “I was told that Kotey - or ‘Big Sid’ as he was known - was in direct contact with a guy called Tarik Hassane.”
“He was the main source of inspiration for the plot. He helped direct the plot, telling them what to do.”
The source confirmed that Hassane was also in direct contact with the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“If Kotey gave his word that a new recruit was a good guy they could move up the ranks quickly. He was passing on greetings from ‘the big man’ (al-Baghdadi): “he praises your efforts” and “keep going”. Things like that”.
The allegation that Kotey was involved in the west London plot has remained secret until now but was confirmed by sources familiar with the investigation.
It is likely that the details will be outlined in court when he goes on trial, most likely in the United States, but possibly in the UK.
Kotey is thought to have been one of Britain’s most prominent jihadist recruiters, focusing on young petty criminals with the promise of limitless gangsterism in Syria.
He helped to radicalise Hassane and Mohamed Emwazi, the ISIS executioner who became known as ‘Jihadi John’. All three men lived a few streets away from each other in west London. They were part of a friendship group from which at least a dozen men left the UK to fight in Syria.
In an online message posted a few months before his arrest and seen by ITV News, Hassane described the friends who helped to radicalise him. He said he “became religious” as a teenager after he “met some good older practicing [sic] brothers. Started hanging around with them…”
Hassane is thought to have travelled to Syria before returning home to the UK, leaving his British friends behind to form their execution cell. ‘The Beatles’ held more than 20 western hostages in Syria. They beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers, celebrating the slaughters in propaganda videos shared online.
Last year, Kotey was named a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ by US authorities after his identity was revealed by ITV News. Officials in Washington DC said: “as a guard for the cell, Kotey likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding.”
All four members of 'The Beatles’ cell have been killed or captured: Emwazi died in a drone strike in 2015; Aine Davies was convicted in a Turkish court last year; El Shafee Elsheikh was arrested by Syrian Kurdish fighters alongside Kotey in January.