Two ex-British alleged Islamic State (IS) suspects have been charged in the US with terrorism offences over the killing of four American hostages.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are accused of belonging to an IS cell dubbed “The Beatles” involved in kidnappings in Iraq and Syria.
The pair are being held in FBI custody and will appear in a US federal court in Virginia later.
The men, previously in US military custody in Iraq, deny the charges.
US Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a press conference the charges were “the result of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice” for the four Americans who died – James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Addressing the families of the victims, he said: “Although we cannot bring back your children, we will do all that we can do: obtain justice for them, for you, and for all Americans.”
He added: “These men will now be brought before a United States court to face justice for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment.”
The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The pair are alleged to have been members of an IS gang – nicknamed by hostages after the 1960s pop group due to their British accents – which was responsible for the death of hostages in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The victims – who included American journalists and UK and US aid workers – were beheaded and their deaths filmed and broadcast on social media.
Kotey and Elsheikh, from west London, were previously stripped of their UK nationality.
The charges they face are:
- Conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death
- 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
- Conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation resulting in death
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.”
The IS group’s alleged ringleader, Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John” died in a drone strike in 2016.
Referring to his death, Mr Demers said he had “faced a different kind of American resolve – the mighty reach of our military, which successfully targeted him in an air strike several years ago”.
The US sought the UK’s help in the case but until recently a legal fight over the use of the death penalty hampered cooperation.
Last month, the US made clear Kotey and Elsheikh would not be executed if found guilty.
Step towards closure
This is a huge development in this case.
These two Londoners were captured two years ago by Kurdish forces and handed over to US custody in Iraq, where they’ve been for the past 12 months.
They deny torturing and murdering hostages – but that is what they are accused of.
They are being brought to a US court in Virginia, near Washington DC.
Their appearance will come as a step towards closure for the families of those who were killed in Iraq and Syria.
IS once controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq and imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people.
The liberation of that territory exposed the magnitude of the abuses inflicted by the jihadist group, including summary killings, torture, amputations, ethno-sectarian attacks, rape and sexual slavery imposed on women and girls. Hundreds of mass graves containing the remains of thousands of people have been discovered.
UN investigators have concluded that IS militants committed acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.