A British terrorist who conspired to abduct and behead Western hostages for the so-called Islamic State is facing spending the rest of his life behind bars after pleading guilty to multiple charges in a US federal court.
Alexanda Kotey, 37, is accused of belonging to an IS cell known as "The Beatles"- due to their British accents- which was involved in kidnappings in Iraq and Syria. The IS cell was allegedly responsible for the beheadings of a number of Western and Japanese hostages.
Kotey, who grew up in London, attended a two-hour change of plea hearing at US District
Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday and pleaded guilty to eight charges.
They were four counts of hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder US citizens abroad, 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 organisation resulting in death.
Diane Foley, the mother of journalist James Foley, who was the first of four American hostages to be killed by Kotey, said Thursday's plea hearing was the first time she came face-to-face with the British jihadi, who she believes should spend the rest of his life in prison.
"It is rather sobering to think that any human being could have committed all the horrific things he pleaded guilty to. He is the same age as one of our sons," she told ITV News."The only thing he was concerned about is that he did not want to have to take the stand against his buddy Elsheikh."
'It's hard to even really think that a person could do all those things'
Following the hearing, Bethany Haines, whose father was murdered in 2014 by IS, said she is happy with the result, but is urging Kotey to now help locate her dad's remains.
“My family are really pleased with the outcome of the plea hearing," she told ITV News.
"We are glad Alexanda Kotey has finally admitted his guilt and justice will be served. It’s been a hard few years and there will be hard times to come but my family and I would like to bring my Dad home to rest.
"We ask Kotey and Elsheikh to please give us the closure we desperately need and tell us what happened and where my Dad’s remains are.”
She has previously told ITV News about the years she spent poring over hundreds of websites and speaking to countless people to find out what happened to her father, who was an aid worker.
In 2019, Bethany Haines went with ITV News to search for her father's remains and spoke with Syrian victims of ISIS who had to deal with atrocities on a daily basis
ITV News later confronted Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh about what they knew of the last moments of Mr Haines.
But Kotey remained evasive when pressed by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo.
An ITV video report in 2019 shows how Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh dodged the opportunity to directly apologise for Mr Haine's death
Kotey on Thursday agreed to fully co-operate with authorities as part of his plea agreement, the court was told.
He admitted his role in capturing hostages and said when his involvement in that came to an end, he worked in IS’s recruitment division, as a sniper and in the terror group’s “English media department”.
What are the terms of Kotey's plea deal?
The plea deal sets a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole.
After 15 years, Kotey would be eligible to be transferred to the UK to face any possible charges there.
Kotey will have to provide all relevant documents, meet with victims’ families if they wish to do so and voluntarily submit to a lie detector test.
The deal also requires him to answer questions about his time in the Islamic State group.
However, he will not be compelled to give evidence in court against co-defendant El Shafee Elsheikh, the hearing was told.
Kotey said while working for IS he came into contact with Mr Henning, Mr Haines and John Cantlie, a British war correspondent who disappeared in 2012 and who remains missing.
He said his job would be to “extract” contact details for loved ones of those taken hostage.
The terrorists would then demand the release of Islamic prisoners held by the West or large sums of money in return for the hostages’ freedom.
He said he was not physically present at any of the killings of the Western captives.
Kotey was captured alongside Elsheikh in Syria in 2018 by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape to Turkey.
The following year, ITV News secured an exclusive interview with him in which he admitted the role he played in IS for the first time.
Speaking to ITV News security editor Rohit Kachroo, he talked about his part in a plot to kill soldiers and police in drive-by shootings at Shepherd's Bush police station and the Parachute Regiment Territorial Army Barracks at White City in London.
In 2019, Kotey admitted helping to organise the plot and direct funds toward the UK terrorists
Prosecutors said they did not wish to speak at the hearing on Thursday, but they will have an opportunity to talk at Kotey’s formal sentencing on March 4.