Two British terror suspects accused of beheading Western hostages for so-called Islamic State in Syria have pleaded not guilty to all charges against them in a US court.
Alexanda Kotey, 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, are accused of being involved in the executions of four American citizens, as well as British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.
The pair, who grew up in London, are said to have been part of a four-strong terror cell dubbed The Beatles because of their English accents.
The cell, said to be made up of ringleader Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, Aine Davis, Kotey and Elsheikh, was allegedly responsible for the killings of a number of Western and Japanese captives, including Britons Alan Henning and David Haines.
The are also accused of involvement in the killings of four American hostages – journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Emwazi was killed in a US air strike in 2015, while Davis was later jailed in Turkey.
Kotey and Elsheikh were transferred to the US on Wednesday, after being captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018 and held in Iraq by the US military since October 2019.
At a brief hearing in the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday, the two men pleaded not guilty to the eight charges against them via video link from jail and requested a trial by jury.
The case is due back in court on January 15 to set a trial date.
Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said some of the evidence in the case is classified, which will require some pre-trial hearings to be closed to the public to determine how that evidence will be handled.
The charges against them include hostage-taking resulting in death and providing material support to terrorists – five of the eight counts carry mandatory sentences of life imprisonment.
Many of the executions Kotey and Elsheikh were allegedly involved in were filmed and beamed around the world in graphic detail by so-called Islamic State.
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.
The defendants are accused of forcing captives to witness murders, subjecting them to mock executions, shocks via electric taser and beatings among other brutal acts.
Under American law, the pair may be held liable for the “foreseeable acts of their co-conspirators” that took place during the course of the conspiracy – including facilitating hostage taking, ransom demands, abuse and the murder of Americans, Europeans and Asian citizens.
According to the 24-page indictment, they are each charged with:
– Conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death
– Four counts of hostage taking resulting in death (relating to American victims James Foley, Kayla Mueller, Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig)
– 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
– Conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation resulting in death.
The indictment released by the US justice department said the pair had taken part in and been arrested during a demonstration outside the US embassy in London in 2011 in support of the 9/11 attacks. They travelled to Syria the following year.
Last month, a High Court ruling allowed the UK to share case information with US authorities, which the families of the British alleged victims described as a “huge result”.
The information was shared only after US attorney general William Barr promised that the men will not face the death penalty.