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What to Know About the ISIS ‘Beatles’ Captured in Syria

3 minute read

U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters have captured the last two British members of an ISIS insurgent cell nicknamed ‘The Beatles,’ who were notorious for their horrific and brutal acts against hostages.

The men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria in early Jan, the New York Times reports. The men were identified using fingerprints and biometric data. They were part of a four-person cell which gained a reputation for beheading hostages and torture.

Here’s more:

Why are they nicknamed ‘The Beatles?’

Because of their English accents. The men made up a four-person ISIS cell that captured, tortured and beheaded at least 27 hostages including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig. A former hostage told the Guardian that fellow hostages referred to the four militants as ‘The Beatles,’ after the British pop group.

An international manhunt for the fighters began in Aug. 2014 when ISIS released a video of Foley’s execution at the hands of an English-speaking militant, who called himself ‘John.’ Foley’s executioner and leader of the cell was dubbed ‘Jihadi John’ by the British press. His identity was later revealed to be Mohamed Emwazi, a west Londoner.

“Between us, we called them the Beatles because we didn’t know their names. There was Paul, Ringo and George; Emwazi had the name John. He was the tallest, the calmest, but also the most determined, without the slightest scruple” French journalist Didier François, a former hostage, told the press in 2015.

Who are they?

Emwazi, who featured in ISIS execution videos dressed in black and wielding a knife, was killed in a drone strike on Raqqa, formerly ISIS’s self-declared capital, in 2015. Emwazi was born in Kuwait and moved to London when he was six. He came from a middle-class family and graduated from college with a computer programming degree. He came under surveillance by U.K. intelligence services after travelling to Tanzania and Kenya.

The family of the recently captured El Shafee Elsheikh fled from Sudan in the 1990s. Elsheikh also grew up in west London. He traveled to Syria in 2012 and joined Al Qaeda in Syria before shifting his alliances to ISIS. The State Department says he earned a reputation for mock executions, crucifixions and waterboarding “while serving as an ISIS jailer.”

Other detainee Alexanda Amon Kotey is of Greek Cypriot background. He attended the same Al-Manaar mosque in west London as Emwazi and travelled to the Middle East on a controversial aid convoy organized by former Scottish politician George Galloway in 2009. His friends told Buzzfeed that they did not heard from him since.

Aine Davis, who was a former drug dealer and driver in west London, was convicted for being a senior ISIS member and jailed for terrorism charges last year in Turkey. He was detained near Istanbul in 2016 on suspicion of planning attacks in the country.

What will happen to the pair captured in January?

The jury is out. Both men were stripped of their British citizenship, according to the New York Times, and it is not clear if the Justice Department will seek to prosecute the men or whether the U.S. military will take custody of them.

Officials told the Times that the men have been providing them with valuable information about the remaining ISIS support structure and leadership. U.S. officials sought to keep their capture under the radar to give more time to prepare raids against ISIS targets and follow-up on intelligence leads.

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