US charges IS Beatles terror suspects Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh

  • Video report by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

The US has announced charges against two suspected ISIS terrorists dubbed the Beatles for allegedly beheading Western hostages.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both in their 30s and from west London, are accused of being part of an execution ring which killed captives, including Britons Alan Henning and David Haine.

The pair, named after the pop band because of their British accents, are set to face a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday afternoon.

Justice 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.

The indictment alleges that so-called Islamic State fighters also forcibly seized two United Kingdom citizens, an Italian citizen, a Danish citizen, a German citizen, four French citizens, three Spanish citizens, a New Zealand citizen, and a Russian citizen.

  • Watch: ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo spoke to Elsheikh before he was transferred to US custody in 2019

John Demers, assistant attorney general for National Security, announced the charges during a press conference in the US on Wednesday.

He said: “Kotey and Elsheikh were members of the notoriously brutal Isis hostage-taking cell that became known as ‘the Beatles’ — a name their captives gave to them because of their British accents. “The defendants are charged with terrorism offences related to hostage-taking and killing of four Americans, as well as citizens of Great Britain and Japan.” He added: “Today is a good day, but it is also a solemn one. “Today, we remember the four innocent Americans whose lives were taken by Isis.”

FBI director Christopher Wray told the US press conference: “We mourn not only our American victims but also the British victims David Haines and Alan Henning, and victims of all nations who suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of Isis.”

Kotey and Elsheikh's alleged acts were filmed and shared on social media in graphic detail as part of propaganda by the so-called Islamic State terror group.

They were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018 before being transferred to US custody in Iraq in October 2019.

  • Watch: Alexanda Kotey talks to Rohit Kachroo from a Syrian prison in 2019

Last month, families of the men allegedly killed by the pair welcomed news they were likely to face trial in the US after a High Court ruling allowed the UK to share case information with US authorities, describing the decision as a “huge result for us”.

After the ruling Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that “further evidence to support the prosecution” of the two men was “finally” sent to America.

Former aircraft engineer and humanitarian Mr Haines, 44, from Perth in Scotland, was beheaded in Syria in 2014 after being held prisoner for 18 months.

Cab driver-turned-aid worker Mr Henning, 47, from Lancashire, was also beheaded in 2014 after being captured by extremists in Syria.

Their deaths, and several others, were filmed and used for propaganda by extremists.

The cell’s ringleader was said to have been Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a US air strike in 2015.

Alan Henning was killed in 2014.

The group’s fourth member, Aine Davis, was later jailed in Turkey.

The prospect of a criminal trial increased after Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli, last month lost a judicial review as she sought to prevent evidence against her son and his co-accused being sent to the US.

Ms Elgizouli’s lawyers had unsuccessfully argued Ms Patel’s earlier decision was unlawful as it was incompatible with the Data Protection Act, and asked the court to order that no material should be provided to the US.

They said the transfer of the evidence was “not strictly necessary” as it was made at a time when the Director of Public Prosecutions was due to make a decision “imminently” about whether there was enough evidence to prosecute Elsheikh in the UK – which US authorities previously indicated a preference for.

But Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham rejected the case, saying it was “not properly arguable”.

Who is Alexanda Kotey?

Kotey, 34, is accused of becoming a key IS recruiter after converting to Islam in his twenties.

The father-of-two, born into the Greek Orthodox Church, is accused of going on to lead the so-called 'Beatles' cell in Syria, which held hostages and executed a string of western captives including Britons David Haines and Alan Henning.

Alexanda Kotey was a key IS recruiter. Credit: AP

It is believed Kotey was responsible for radicalising a several young men in west London before leaving Britain.

Who is El Shafee Elsheikh?

El Shafee Elsheikh was arrested alongside Alexanda Kotey. Credit: AP

A British citizen whose family fled Sudan in the 1990s, El Shafee Elsheikh was arrested alongside Kotey.

American officials say Elsheikh, known to friends as ‘Shaf’, travelled to Syria in 2012, first joining Al-Qaeda’s (AQ) branch in Syria, and later joined ISIS. While in Raqqa, he is thought to have become a member of the terror cell known as ‘The Beatles’.