UK may not oppose US death penalty for ISIS 'Beatles', official says in letter

The UK government has said it would not be opposed to two members of a British ISIS cell known as "the Beatles" being...

Posted: Jul 23, 2018 3:52 PM
Updated: Jul 23, 2018 3:52 PM

The UK government has said it would not be opposed to two members of a British ISIS cell known as "the Beatles" being executed in the US, prompting allegations it had undermined its longstanding opposition to the death penalty abroad.

In a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, disclosed in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper Monday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that Britain would not demand "assurances" that two members of the terror cell would not receive the death penalty in return for the UK sharing intelligence about them.

The leaked letter, dated June 22, refers to the case of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh -- part of a four-man ISIS cell nicknamed "the Beatles" for their British accents -- who are believed to be responsible for beheading high-profile Western hostages in Syria and Iraq.

Capital punishment is illegal in the UK and the British government opposes its use abroad. The UK typically does not cooperate with foreign jurisdictions in cases where a death sentence could be imposed, unless written assurances are provided that it would not be sought or implemented.

In the leaked letter, Javid said he was willing to make an exception in the case of Kotey and Elsheikh: "I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought."

"As you are aware, it is the long held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK Government's stance on the global abolition of the death penalty," the letter continued.

The opposition Labour party invoked parliamentary procedure to force a discussion on the issue in the House of Commons on Monday. The party's home affairs spokesman, Diane Abbott, said the UK could not be "a little bit in favor" of the death penalty: "Either we offer consistent opposition or we don't," she said.

Replying, security minister Ben Wallace said the UK government's policy on the death penalty had not changed, and that it did allow exceptions in rare circumstances. Sharing intelligence with the US would increase the chance of the men facing trial, he said.

Wallace also effectively confirmed previous reports that Kotey and Elsheikh had been stripped of their British nationalities. "We are not talking about UK citizens," he said.

Among their victims was beheaded American journalist James Foley, whose mother Diane told the BBC's Today program that the death penalty would "just make them martyrs in their twisted ideology."

"I would like them held accountable by being sent to prison for the rest of their lives," she said.

Wrangle over foreign fighters

The two ISIS fighters, whose cell was fronted by Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John, were captured in January and are now being held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Emwazi was killed in a drone strike in 2015.

The pair are among dozens of foreign-born ISIS fighters in the region seemingly left in limbo as their countries of origin wrangle over who should take responsibility for them.

Indeed, while Javid's letter says the UK is "committed to assisting the US with a federal prosecution of Kotey and El-Sheikh," it also says the UK does not intend to request their transfer to the UK for prosecution.

The Home Secretary added that given the high profile of the fighters, they could also be "held up as an example of how we treat and deal with alleged ISIS fighters."

The group gained notoriety in 2014 and 2015 for a string of brutal propaganda videos, in which they demanded millions of dollars in ransom to spare the lives of foreign hostages, many of them journalists and aid workers. Few of the ransoms were met, and instead the hostages were beheaded.

Fourth cell member Aine Davis was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization by a court in Turkey in 2017 and jailed for seven-and-a-half years.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
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Tate342486
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Stone188433
Clay187954
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Calhoun174132
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Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
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Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
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Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
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Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
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Tallapoosa4138155
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Chambers3728124
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Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
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Pickens236962
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Butler224271
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Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
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Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
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Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
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