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UK shares evidence with US in case of two Islamic State 'Beatles'

US authorities received evidence after UK high court dismissed an appeal by mother of one of the accused
El Shafee Elsheikh, right, and Alexanda Kotey were captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2018 before being handed over to US (AFP/File photo)

UK authorities handed over key evidence to the US on Tuesday in the case of two men accused of carrying out a series of beheadings while with the Islamic State (IS) group, paving the way for their trial after Washington said it would not seek the death penalty.

The Home Office had been bound by a March Supreme Court ruling against providing material to the US or other foreign countries in cases that could lead to the death penalty.

But the court lifted the ban last month after Washington vowed not to pursue the death penalty against Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two members of an IS group execution squad known as the "Beatles". 

The two men are accused of killing and torturing western journalists in Syria, including James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as American aid worker Peter Kassig. 

The transfer of material intended to help the prosecution came after Elsheikh's mother lost a legal challenge in the London High Court.

Maha Elgizouli, Elsheikh's mother, had filed a judicial review of the decision taken by Home Secretary Priti Patel in August to comply with the request from the US. She had argued that an evidence transfer was unlawful because it was incompatible with the UK's Data Protection Act.

But on Tuesday, the judges presiding over the challenge, Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham, said Elgizouli's case was "not properly arguable".

UK lifts ban on evidence-sharing with US in Islamic State 'Beatles' case
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Following the decision, the Home Office confirmed that officials "have now transferred the evidence to support the US investigation".

Evidence regarding Elsheikh and Kotey "has now finally been transferred to the US," Patel said on Twitter.

"I sincerely hope that justice for the victims and their families will now be served," she said.

Both men were captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2018 before being handed over to the US in October 2019.

Last month, US Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department would not seek the death penalty in exchange for the UK's cooperation, but warned that Washington planned to hand Kotey and Elsheikh over to the Iraqi justice system if the Home Office did not agree to the deal by 15 October.

Based on past events, Iraqi authorities would likely execute the two without due process.

"Further delay is no longer possible if Kotey and Elsheikh are to be tried in the United States, and the further delay is an injustice to the families of the victims," Barr said in the letter to Patel at the time. 

While both Londoners, the UK government quietly took steps to strip the men of their British citizenship in late 2014, after footage of the gruesome beheadings was posted on the internet.

The IS cell is believed to have been led by Mohammed Emwazi, the masked figure in a series of execution videos released by the group in 2014 and 2015. Emwazi, also known as "Jihadi John", was killed in a US drone strike in 2015.

A fourth alleged member of the cell, Aine Davis, was arrested in Turkey in 2015, where he was convicted and jailed on terrorism charges in 2017.