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'Pain, suffering, cruelty': Islamic State 'Beatles' indictment paints damning picture

US prosecutors detail Alexander Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh's involvement in filming executions and tormenting prisoners
Alleged Islamic State 'Beatles' arrive in US to face charges of hostage deaths (Reuters)

Two former British citizens have been branded the “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” in an indictment brought against them in the United States over their involvement with the Islamic State (IS) group.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey will be the first members of the militant group to face trial in the US over the beheading of a number of aid workers and journalists that sent shockwaves across the world in 2014.

The two individuals were flown to the United States on Wednesday and appeared by video link from prison in a federal court in Virginia.

The indictment charges them in connection with the killing of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller, along with a number of other European and Japanese captives.

Along with two other former British nationals - Mohammed Emwazi and Aine Davis - the two were branded the "Beatles" because of their English accents and frequent appearences in gruesome IS propaganda videos.

The indictment refers to Davis, who is currently in custody in Turkey, as "CC-1". Emwazi was killed in a drone strike in 2015.

Alexander Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh (AFP)
Alexander Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh (AFP)

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are accused of, from around 22 November 2012 to February 2015, being involved in inflicting "pain, suffering, cruelty and mistreatment" on hostages captured by IS and organising ransom demands and interrogation of prisoners.

Details of an email sent to the families of hostages, coordinated by Elsheikh and Kotey, are listed in the indictment.

In an email to Kassig's family on 9 February 2014, the group accused the aid worker - who they describe as a "medic" - of secretly working to "secularise and democratise" the Muslim world.

“[I]ndeed they [medics] travel all over the world, mainly to Muslim conflict regions such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and other similar countries secretly secularizing and democratizing the poor and displaced Muslim populations whilst offering material gain to those who adopt their ideologies and principles," read the email.

'[W]e adopt a strict policy of ‘an eye for an eye, A tooth for a tooth’ giving the enemies of Islam a drink from their own bitter cup'

- IS email to hostage's family

"[W]e adopt a strict policy of ‘an eye for an eye, A tooth for a tooth’ giving the enemies of Islam a drink from their own bitter cup."

The actual details of the direct involvement of either Kotey or Elsheikh in much of the listed activities are kept vague throughout much of the indictment.

One incident that directly apportions roles is the description of the execution of a Syrian prisoner in 2014 that the two forced European hostages to watch.

Kotey told the hostages to hold signs begging for their release and kneel while watching the execution.

Elsheikh filmed Emwazi shooting the Syrian prisoner in the back of the head.

The three of them then returned the European hostages to prison. Elsheikh reportedly told them “you’re next".

'Just full of heads and bodies'

The US Justice Department has revealed that the pair are facing multiple charges, including: conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death, hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder US citizens outside of the country, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death, and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation resulting in death.

If they are convicted and found guilty, they would likely face life in prison after US officials said they would not pursue the death penalty against the pair as part of a deal for access to evidence collected by British authorities.

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Elsheikh's mother had attempted to block the extradition of her son to the US on the grounds that he might face execution.

However, a high court ruling last month that allowed the transferral of criminal evidence from the UK to US prosecutors if capital punishment was ruled out cleared the way for the men to be transported from detention in Iraq and charged.

The indictment describes Elsheikh sending photos of IS victims to family members in July 2014.

Following his participation in an attack on Syrian government forces in the city of Raqqa - which would soon fall to IS - Elsheikh allegedly sent pictures of severed heads collected by the militants via WhatsApp

"There's many heads, this is just a couple I took a photo of," says Elsheikh in a recorded voice message, adding that the roundabout area is "just full of heads and bodies".