ISIS fighters known as 'the Beatles' demand fair trial

Two of the most wanted fighters from the British ISIS cell called "the Beatles" have called some of the group's actio...

Posted: Apr 9, 2018 1:50 PM
Updated: Apr 9, 2018 1:50 PM

Two of the most wanted fighters from the British ISIS cell called "the Beatles" have called some of the group's actions "regrettable," and insisted that their legal rights are respected wherever they're brought to trial.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with CNN, which they consented to, from inside a detention facility in northern Syria where they are being held by US-backed Syrian Kurds.

The pair gained notoriety for being part of a British-accented group of ISIS fighters, fronted by Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John, who for a time regularly appeared in macabre videos from Syria showing him beheading several Western hostages.

The executions, widely disseminated online, caused outrage and horror in the West, transforming public perceptions of the terror threat posed by ISIS.

Legal limbo

The pair are among dozens of foreign-born ISIS fighters held in the region now seemingly caught amid a diplomatic wrangle, with their countries of origin either equivocating or point blank refusing to sanction their return to stand trial, leaving the Syrian Kurds with an uncomfortable burden.

Inside the facility, the pair seemed relaxed and comfortable as they sipped Pepsi and debated for 90 minutes whether they wanted to speak, before talking on camera for 54 minutes, often directly addressing the legal limbo they now find themselves in.

According to British media, the pair have been stripped of their UK citizenship, further exacerbating the issue of where -- if anywhere, given the legal hurdles -- to bring them to trial.

The US State Department accuses Kotey, 34, originally from Ladbroke Grove in London, of having "likely engaged in the group's executions and exceptionally cruel torture" of their Western journalist and aid worker hostages.

Elsheikh "was said to have earned a reputation for water-boarding, mock executions, and crucifixions," according to the State Department.

The pair joked about the United Kingdom or US potentially choosing to try them under Sharia law, or "hang, draw and quarter" them, while constantly referring to the rights afforded them under US and UK legal systems.

"l am not a democratic person, but I am being subjected to democratic law. So it is only right for those who claim to uphold this to fully uphold it," Elsheikh said.

Confronted by CNN with the fact several of their former hostages and alleged victims had said they recognized their faces and voices from previous interviews, Elsheikh declined to comment on what he said would be a legal matter. "It's just an accusation, legally speaking. You know, if Britain said 'we are going to deal with you by barbaric law, or with law from the medieval ages,' then hang, draw and quarter me. But that's not the case. I'm just merely pointing that out." Kotey offered a similarly veiled denial, and refused to be drawn on specific allegations.

Displaying a mix of contempt and joviality, Kotey added: "The American administration or British government -- if they decided they wanted to be champions of the sharia and apply Islamic law upon myself and Shaf [Elsheikh], then by all means. If not, then they should adhere to that which they claim to be champions of."

Asked where he would prefer to be tried, Kotey said: "Definitely, familiarity is the easier option. My experience is that British judges are quite fair and just." He added: "I miss fish and chips and pickled egg."

Elsheikh appeared angry at the potential loss of his UK citizenship -- specifically at how little information or consent he had in the process -- which the British government has yet to officially announce or comment on. "It does not necessarily upset me, but I think it would would be a very black day for international law."

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office refused to comment on the citizenship of the pair when approached by CNN Monday.

Speculation has grown as to what eventual solution will bring the ISIS prisoners to trial and where those convicted can be incarcerated, with the US emerging as one possible option.

Elsheikh twice expressed his approval of the US Department of Defense interrogators who he said have been talking to him, calling them "fair actors."

He added: "If you were to be taken back to the USA, you would be dealing with the likes of the FBI and people of that sort who are definitely not ... I don't have the same to say about them."

Elsheikh on several occasions referred to the traumatic scenes he said he had witnessed in Syria since arriving in Aleppo in 2012.

Both men suggested the violence of the regime against Syrian civilians was a motive for their eventual role in ISIS. Yet Kotey often appeared unaffected by the seriousness of the accusations made against him.

Asked what keeps him awake at night he paused, smiled and said: "There are these lice in my clothes in the place I'm sleeping. No, I want to talk about while I was in the Islamic State the kinds of things that keep you up at night is the sound of the F-16 jets flying the sky. And some Syrian neighbor with his kids crying."

Elsheikh also spoke of the death of children by what he said was Coalition bombardment.

Mock executions, murder

Between 2014 and 2015 the group, fronted by the masked black-clad Mohammed Emwazi or Jihadi John, participated in a string of brutal ISIS propaganda videos, in which they demanded millions in 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.

Reflecting in their involvement in the murders, the pair, at times, appeared uneasy with some of ISIS' methods.

Elsheikh said he "came to Syria and I had standards and principles. I didn't come here because of a love of death, or witnessing death, or seeing destruction."

He said some principles were compatible with being in ISIS, others not. "Every person who is a member of any community will have some discrepancies with opinions, actions."

Kotey said he regretted some of the extreme elements of ISIS' execution videos, and their effect on the victims' families. "Definitely it would be damaging and it's regrettable that families had to see that," he said.

However, Elsheikh defiantly referred to the man believed to behind many of the most notorious beheadings, Emwazi, as his "friend."

Asked to describe Emwazi, who was killed in a drone strike in November 2015, he said: "Obviously I know that people in the Western world aren't going to want to hear this, but truth has to be said. He was one of the most loyal friends I've had, trustworthy, honest, upstanding."

He admitted being surprised when he saw video of Emwazi beheading hostages, and declined to answer whether he approved of the act.

After the interview was finished, guards put handcuffs and masks on the prisoners. As the pair was led away, Elsheikh turned his head and said: "Make me look good."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 74328

Reported Deaths: 3041
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15860725
Lake7570275
Elkhart484384
Allen3902163
St. Joseph350081
Hamilton2763104
Vanderburgh196313
Hendricks1887108
Cass17959
Johnson1757118
Porter131639
Clark123347
Tippecanoe121111
Madison97965
LaPorte91130
Howard89065
Kosciusko85212
Bartholomew79347
Marshall78422
Floyd77946
Monroe75630
Delaware73052
Dubois69612
Boone67846
Noble67829
Hancock66038
Vigo65110
Jackson5865
Warrick58130
LaGrange55910
Shelby55327
Grant52630
Dearborn50828
Morgan47634
Clinton4343
Henry38320
Wayne37710
White36910
Montgomery35421
Lawrence34627
Harrison33823
Decatur33732
Putnam2888
Miami2742
Daviess27320
Scott26810
Greene25034
Jasper2432
Franklin24214
DeKalb2324
Gibson2254
Jennings22512
Steuben2103
Ripley2087
Carroll1912
Fayette1897
Perry18612
Starke1787
Orange17124
Posey1710
Wabash1693
Fulton1682
Wells1682
Jefferson1632
Knox1540
Whitley1526
Washington1401
Tipton13810
Spencer1363
Sullivan1261
Huntington1223
Randolph1224
Clay1215
Newton11810
Adams1012
Jay910
Owen901
Pulaski831
Rush804
Fountain742
Brown731
Ohio655
Blackford642
Benton610
Pike530
Switzerland520
Vermillion520
Parke511
Crawford450
Martin450
Union410
Warren221
Unassigned0206

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 100848

Reported Deaths: 3669
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18317524
Cuyahoga13514499
Hamilton9643255
Lucas5348323
Montgomery436294
Summit3555222
Butler292963
Marion292545
Mahoning2554255
Pickaway238742
Stark1827139
Warren178939
Lorain177078
Columbiana165860
Trumbull1524106
Fairfield138732
Delaware130119
Licking128149
Clark114614
Lake111438
Wood104358
Clermont93311
Medina92335
Miami83938
Tuscarawas78214
Portage75861
Allen74044
Greene69012
Belmont62126
Mercer61213
Richland60412
Erie57527
Ashtabula56946
Geauga55644
Wayne53958
Ross4844
Huron3965
Darke39529
Ottawa38626
Hancock3783
Sandusky37716
Madison37410
Athens3571
Holmes3286
Lawrence2830
Auglaize2546
Union2511
Muskingum2361
Jefferson2292
Scioto2261
Seneca2143
Knox2057
Putnam20517
Preble2032
Washington20322
Shelby1944
Coshocton1936
Champaign1762
Crawford1745
Morrow1702
Hardin16512
Clinton1646
Highland1581
Logan1552
Fulton1481
Wyandot1468
Ashland1443
Defiance1444
Williams1353
Perry1303
Brown1292
Hocking1189
Guernsey1177
Henry1172
Fayette1130
Carroll1115
Monroe9318
Pike760
Jackson740
Van Wert711
Paulding690
Gallia651
Adams612
Meigs400
Vinton312
Harrison261
Morgan260
Noble160
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Angola
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 70°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 69°
Decatur
68° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 68°
Van Wert
68° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 68°
Storms return for Monday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events