Two British fighters believed to have been part of the Islamic State group’s execution cell should face trial following their seizure, the mother of one of the cell’s alleged victims says.
Alexanda Kotey, and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured by Syrian Kurdish forces.
They were two of the four British IS members widely known as “the Beatles”.
Diane Foley, whose son James, an American journalist, was beheaded by the cell, says she wants the two men to face life imprisonment.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Their crimes are beyond imagination.”
Mrs Foley said that she would like the men to face trial in the US but she would be “most grateful” as long as “they are brought to fair trial and detained and justice is served”.
“It doesn’t bring James back, but hopefully it protects others from this kind of crime,” she said.
Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who spent 10 months as an IS captive, also told Today that he wanted justice.
He stressed that any attempt to deny the men of their civil rights would only feed IS’s claims of victimisation by the West.
“For them, they were doing it for revenge, against all the grievances they can argue against the western world, which are largely fantasised, and this is why I am now looking for justice and not revenge,” he said.
“I will be extremely frustrated if they were not offered a fair trial and I don’t think the local authorities in northern Syria or detention in Guantanemo Bay would be justice.”
US officials said the “execution cell” had beheaded at least 27 hostages and tortured many more.
Who were the IS ‘Beatles’?
- Mohammed Emwazi – dubbed Jihadi John, was the masked militant from west London who featured in gruesome IS videos, taunting Western powers before beheading hostages. Victims who appeared in those videos included British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig. The alleged ringleader of the group, he was killed in a drone strike in 2015 in Raqqa, the former de facto IS capital in Syria
- Aine Davis, also from west London, was convicted of being a senior IS member and ehe was jailed in Turkey last year on terrorism charges, after being arrested near Istanbul in 2015.
- Alexanda Kotey, another west Londoner, took part in the torture of hostages, the US State Department says, and also acted as a recruiter for IS
- El Shafee Elsheikh “earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions” while serving as the cell’s guard, the US state department says
Who were the Islamic State ‘Beatles’?
The gangster who ditched drugs for jihad
How were they captured?
The latest arrests were confirmed by US officials.
Officials quoted by US media said the two men had been captured by members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are targeting remnants of IS.
The UK Foreign Office, meanwhile, said it did not comment on individual cases or investigations.
Their capture was first reported by the New York Times, who noted that American officials had wanted to keep the news secret.
The aim was “to allow analysts more time to pursue the intelligence leads developed from their detention and prepare raids against unsuspecting Islamic State targets”, the newspaper said.
The Syrian fighters who apprehended them told US officials in mid-January that the two may have been captured, and the men’s identities were later confirmed using fingerprints and other biometric data.
The families of the men told the BBC they were not aware of the capture until the story was reported by news organisations.
What is the state of IS in Syria?
The Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate – its area of control – shrunk rapidly last year.
In October, the group lost its “capital” of Raqqa to the SDF. In the beginning of November, it lost Deir-al Zour in Syria on the same day as it lost al-Qaim in Iraq.
The SDF is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS. The US-backed group has played a key role in driving IS from its strongholds in Syria.
The US has said it aims to maintain an open-ended military presence in the country to ensure the jihadist group’s defeat.
However, the presence of large numbers of Kurdish armed forces in northern Syria has alarmed neighbouring Turkey.
Analysis: What happened to all the foreign fighters?
Gordon Corera, security correspondent
The pair are said to have provided valuable intelligence following their capture. That may be helpful in answering the wider question of what happened to the foreign fighters as the so-called caliphate disintegrated.
How many of the thousands of foreign fighters were killed and how many went to other countries or would seek to come home? These men will have been priority targets – but not the only ones.
Their capture also raises the issue of what happens next. They could be put on trial in the US, since they were allegedly involved in the killing of US hostages – but there may be some in the Trump administration who would like to send them to Guantanamo Bay.
And it is not clear if this is – formally – an issue for the UK Government, as there are reports the pair may have had their UK citizenship stripped from them using powers available to the Home Office.
Secret convoy let hundreds of IS fighters escape