The Justice Department is preparing to announce charges Wednesday against two men from Britain who joined Daesh and were part of a cell that beheaded Western hostages, a law enforcement official said.
They are expected to make their first court appearance in the afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly ahead of an official announcement.
The expected announcement is a milestone in a years-long effort by US authorities to bring to justice members of a militant group known for beheadings and barbaric treatment of American aid workers, journalists and other hostages in Syria.
Their arrival in the US to face charges sets the stage for arguably the most sensational terrorism prosecution since the 2014 case against the suspected ringleader of a deadly attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are two of four men dubbed “the Beatles” by the hostages they held captive because of their British accents. They are facing criminal charges in federal court.
The two have been held since October 2019 in American military custody, and the Justice Department has long wanted to put them on trial. They were captured in Syria in 2018 by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Attorney General William Barr broke a diplomatic standoff earlier this year when he promised the men would not face the death penalty. That prompted British authorities to share evidence against the men that prosecutors deemed crucial for obtaining convictions.
In interviews while in detention, the two men admitted that they helped collect email addresses from Kayla Mueller that could be used to send out ransom demands. Mueller was killed in 2015 after 18 months in Daesh captivity.
The State Department described their conduct in terms not nearly so benign. The agency declared Elsheikh and Kotey as specially designated global terrorists in 2017 and accused them of holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig.
Specifically, the State Department said Elsheikh “was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an Daesh jailer.”
Kotey, according to the State Department, acted as a Daesh recruiter and “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding.”
The other two Beatles included the most infamous member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who was killed in a 2015 drone strike. Emwazi appeared and spoke in the video of Foley’s execution. The fourth member, Aine Lesley Davis, was sentenced to 7 years in prison in Turkey in 2017.