'Beatle' Alexanda Kotey sentenced to life in prison in US for role in Islamic State killings

ITV News North America Correspondent Emma Murphy reports on the long journey for justice for the victims of Alexanda Kotey crimes

British national and Islamic State 'Beatle' Alexanda Kotey has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the brutal killings of US hostages in Syria.

Islamic convert Kotey, 38, was one of a gang of four IS militants nicknamed the 'Beatles' by their hostages due to their British accents, who carried out wanton acts of brutality in the mid 2010s.

He pleaded guilty last September to playing a leadership role in the scheme to torture, hold for ransom and eventually behead four American hostages, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The gang member also admitted guilt in connection with the deaths of European and Japanese nationals who were held captive.

He was given one life sentence for each of the eight counts he pleaded guilty to, which are due to run concurrently.

Alexanda Amon Kotey (left) and IS Beatle El Shafee Elsheikh. Credit: AP

Kotey, originally from Paddington, London, showed no emotion as judge Thomas Selby Ellis delivered his verdict at Alexandria District Court, Virginia, while members of his victims’ families watched on.

Judge Ellis described his actions as “egregious, violent and inhumane” but praised the victims and their family as “undeniably heroes”.

Speaking of the victims, Judge Ellis said: “These were not prisoners of war, these weren’t soldiers in the field ... they were soldiers for good.”

The terror cell also comprised ringleader Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a drone strike in 2015, and Aine Davis, who was jailed in Turkey in 2017, and El Shafee Elsheikh.

Kotey and Elsheikh were brought to the US last year to face charges after the US assured Britain that neither man would face the death penalty.

'Neither of these two men have ever expressed any regret or remorse for what they've done', reports Emma Murphy from outside the court in Virginia.

The court heard 13 impact statements from members of the victims’ families including those of British humanitarians Alan Henning and David Haines, who were captured in war-torn Syria in 2013.

Elsheikh, who was convicted of his role in the murder plot earlier this month, is not due to be sentenced until August, but Judge Ellis ordered that he appear at Kotey's hearing so he could hear the victims' testimonies.

“We have all witnessed (the) exceptionally moving, heart-rending statements of these victims' families", Mr Ellis said, becoming audibly emotional himself following the statements.

“It should be a reminder of what we knew about the hostages.

“Countries celebrate heroes and we should celebrate these individuals who demonstrated courage, purpose and compassion under the most difficult of circumstances.

“The victims of the hostage-taking by Isis are undeniably heroes.”

Among those reading statements were Mr Haines’ wife Dragana, daughters Athea and Bethany, and his brother Mike Haines.

In an extraordinary demonstration of his rejection of hatred, Mr Haines addressed Kotey directly in court and forgave him.

He described his brother as a “hero” and “a force for good” who had an “unrelenting desire” to help others.

“That was the fire that was in his belly", he said.

Speaking to Kotey, he continued: “You have inflicted more pain than I can ever put into words ... our lives will never be the same again.”

“For too long now, you and your cohort have held power over me and my family.

“I am no longer willing to let that happen.

“Today I can say to you, you no longer have power over me and mine. I forgive you.”

El Shafee Elsheikh was brought to the US last year to face charges after the US assured Britain he would not face the death penalty. Credit: AP

Dragana Haines was less forgiving, telling both Kotey and Elsheikh that she hoped they lived “for 200 years” with their crimes.

“For all I care you can live long and suffer,” she said.

Athea Haines, 11, who was just four years old when she lost her father, said his death had “affected my life in so many ways”.

“Sometimes I get sad when I see my friends laughing and playing with their fathers", she told the court.

“It’s not easy to be the girl in school whose dad was killed by terrorists.”

In more shocking and emotional testimony, the court heard how Alan Henning’s daughter Lucy had discovered a picture of her father’s headless body while scrolling on Instagram.

“He wasn’t a religious man or into politics, he was just my dad", she said.”

“If I wasn’t such a moody teenager maybe he wouldn’t have gone (to Syria)", she added, drawing gasps of sympathy from members of the court.

“In my eyes I feel just as much to blame as anyone else.”

Listen to 'Shamima Begum: The Blame Game', available on Apple podcasts

As part of his plea bargain, Kotey is expected to spend 15 years in jail in the US and then may be sent to the UK to serve the remainder of his sentence, where he may face further charges relating to the killings of Mr Henning and Mr Haines.

The Queens Park Rangers football fan said during his trial that when he departed the UK he held “the belief and understanding that the Islamic concept of armed jihad was a valid and legitimate cause and means by which a Muslim defends his fellow Muslim against injustice”.

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”.

He denied being present when the murders were carried out.