A militant of the Islamic State’s notorious “The Beatles” cell has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in the kidnap, torture, and execution of several American hostages in Iraq and Syria. Alexanda Kotey, 38, of London and known as “Ringo,” pleaded guilty in the murders of American journlaists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. This comes as militant El Shafee Elsheikh, another cell member known as “George,” was found guilty by a jury earlier this month of lethal hostage taking, conspiracy to commit murder, and other terrorism related charges. His sentencing is set for this summer, where he will receive a life sentence. “The Beatles” was an Islamic State cell made up of four British men, including Kotey and Elsheik, who carried out the kidnapping, guarding, and execution of nearly three dozen people, including foreign aid workers, journalists, and local security forces. They gained the name “The Beatles” due to their British accents. The group was infamous for their torture methods, such as electrocution and crucifictions.
In 2018, Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by Kurdish forces during the collapse of the self-proclaimed Caliphate when they attempted to escape to Turkey. Both men had their UK citizenship stripped by the Home Office and then the issue of where they would face trial arose. The United States was seeking extradition so they would face the death penalty, but the UK government declined since the death penalty is illegal in their country. As a solution, the United States agreed on a plea bargain where the men would not face the the death penalty during their trials and Kurdish forces transfered custody of them.
Arguably the most well known member of the cell was Mohammed Emwazi, who was known as “Jihadi John.” Emwazi was born in Kuwait, but moved with his family when he was six years old to London, where he became a British national. He studied at the University of Westminster in 2006 before moving back to Kuwait to work for an IT company. By 2012, he moved to Syria and joined the terror group shortly afterwards. Emwazi gained international infamy for appearing in a series of beheading videos used as ISIS propaganda from 2014 to 2015:
- 19 August 2014: American Journalist James Foley was beheaded
- 2 September 2014: American Journalist Steven Sotleef was beheaded
- 13 September 2014: British aid worker David Haines was beheaded
- 3 October 2014: British aid worker Alan Henning was beheaded
- 16 November 2014: Severed head of American aid worker Peter Kassig was shown in a propaganda video, however, it remains unclear how he was killed as his death was not shown (beheading could have been post mortem).
- 16 November 2014: In the same video that showed Kassig’s corpse, 22 Syrian soldiers were beheaded.
- 24 January 2015: Japanese private security consultant Haruna Yukawa was beheaded
- 31 January 2015: Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who traveled to Syria in an attempt to rescue Yukawa, was beheaded
Emwazi was killed by an American drone strike in Raqqa, Syria, on 12 November 2015. The fourth member of the cell, Aine Davis, also known as “Paul,” was captured in Turkey in 2015 where he was later sentenced to seven years in prison for terrorism related offenses.
In an exclusive interview with NBC back in July 2020, Kotey and Elsheikh admitted for the first time that they had direct involvement in the captivity of American aid worker Kayla Mueller and American journalists James Folley. The two men told NBC that they were involved in demanding a $5 million ransom for Kayla, noting “She was in a large room, it was dark, and she was alone, and … she was very scared.” United States military officials believe Kayla was continuously tortured and raped, even by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself with explosives during an American Delta Force raid in 2019, code named “Operation Kayla Mueller.” ISIS claimed Kayla was killed in a 2015 Jordanian airstrike, however, the New York Times reported that al-Baghdadi was personally responsible for beating her to death, citing photos of her corpse that were obtained after the death of al-Baghdadi. The location of her remains are unknown and the family of Kayla are pressing US officials to further interrogate Kotey and Elsheikh for its whereabouts, however, there has not been any breakthroughs to this day. As for James Folley, the two said that they had beaten him while he was captive before his beheading in 2014. They said that James would stand up for other captives so they would get more food, risking being beaten even further. One of the men told NBC ““If the guard would ask, ‘Is the food enough?` Some of the other prisoners were very timid. It was always him who would say, ‘It’s not enough.’”