A member of the British ISIS terrorist group dubbed the “Beatles” pleaded guilty in a U.S. courtroom on Thursday to helping the Islamic State militant group torture and murder captives in Syria, including four Americans.
Alexanda Kotey pleaded guilty to all charges against him in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. U.S. authorities said he and another British ISIS member, El Shafee Elsheikh, were involved in the kidnappings of international hostages, including U.S. aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig and U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Kotey and Elsheikh were each charged with hostage-taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit murder against U.S. citizens abroad, and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. Prosecutors have said both men could face life in prison.
Judge T.S. Ellis III asked Kotey to approach the podium and remove his mask. When the judge asked Kotey if he pleaded guilty to counts one through eight, Kotey said, “Yes.” He also said he was aware that the minimum sentence he faces is life without parole.
Family members of all four Americans were present in court to hear Kotey’s plea but declined the judge’s offer to speak before the court.
Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a group of four British men led by Mohammed Emwazi, who is believed to have murdered Foley and Sotloff in beheadings recorded on video. The four men were linked to more than two dozen murders.
Emwazi — who was dubbed “Jihadi John” — was killed by Hellfire missiles fired from a CIA drone in 2015.
Some of the ISIS hostages who managed to escape said they named the four men “The Beatles” because of their British accents. The fourth “Beatle,” Aine Lesley Davis, was sentenced to serve seven and a half years in a Turkish prison in 2017.
Captured by Kurdish forces in 2018, Kotey and Elsheikh were turned over to the American military in 2019.
The transfer of the men to the U.S. for trial was delayed by legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. British authorities said they were barred from turning evidence over to the U.S. that was obtained by their investigators.
A U.K. judge lifted the ban on sharing information after the U.S. promised to take the death penalty off the table as a potential punishment, paving the way for prosecution in the U.S.
They were held in Iraq for months until they were flown to Virginia to face federal charges in October 2020.
According to the indictment of Kotey and Elsheikh, the two men were “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” from 2012 to 2015 and “engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages.”
Prosecutors for the Eastern District of Virginia said the two men inflicted pain, suffering and cruelty, including forced witnessing of murders, mock executions and shocks to the body with an electrical device.
Kotey and Elsheikh both pleaded not guilty to the terrorism-related charges in October 2020. At Thursday’s hearing, Kotey changed his plea to guilty. Kotey’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Elsheikh, who did not change his plea, declined to comment.
American and British authorities said the group was responsible for 27 killings, including the beheadings of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig, as well as of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.
U.S. officials said that while in captivity, American aid worker Kayla Mueller was taken to live with a senior ISIS official and was raped by the former ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi killed himself with a suicide vest as he was being chased last fall by American commandos during a raid in northwest Syria.
Kotey and Elsheikh admit role in Mueller captivity
Mueller is believed to have died in 2015 in what ISIS said was a Jordanian airstrike. How she was killed has never been confirmed.
In a 2018 interview with the BBC while in the custody of Kurdish officials, Kotey and Elsheikh had denied ever meeting Mueller.
“Who?” Elsheikh responded when asked if he’d ever met her.
“We didn’t meet any foreign non-Muslims,” Kotey added.
But in interviews obtained exclusively by NBC News, the two men for the first time admitted their involvement in the captivity of Mueller.
Kotey said, “She was in a room by herself that no one would go in.”
Elsheikh got into more detail, saying, “I took an email from her myself,” meaning he got an email address the Islamic State militant group could use to demand ransom from the family. “She was in a large room, it was dark, and she was alone, and … she was very scared.”
In one email reviewed by NBC News, ISIS demanded the Mueller family pay 5 million euros and threatened that if the demands weren’t met, they would send the family “a picture of Kayla’s dead body.”
Both Kotey and Elsheikh also admitted to beating captives in the interviews obtained by NBC News.
“I never denied that they was ever hit,” Kotey said of the hostages. As an example, he talked about striking a Danish captive in the chest to make a mark that would be visible in a photo that would be sent to his family.
Elsheikh also implicated himself in the abuse of American journalist James Foley. “I didn’t choke Jim,” he said. “If I choked Jim I would say I choked him. I mean, I’ve — I’ve hit him before. I’ve hit most of the prisoners before.”
Michael Kosnar contributed.