May’s administration doesn’t want Kotey, Al Shaikh detained at Guantanamo Bay but faces pressure to clarify whether they remain British citizens
London, Beirut: The two British ‘Beatles’ extremists captured in Syria should not be detained in Guantanamo Bay but tried in an international war crimes court, a government minister has insisted. Tobias Ellwood, a defence minister, said it would be wrong to send Alexanda Kotey and Al Shafee Al Shaikh to the notorious detention centre in Cuba. Last night, there were demands for the government to clarify the status of Kotey and Al Shaikh amid claims they remained British citizens. If that is the case, then it raises serious questions over their possible imprisonment in Guantanamo. Kotey, 34, and Al Shaikh, 29, both from London, were caught by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) last month as they tried to flee over the Turkish border while disguised as refugees. Their capture was kept secret, but days later Donald Trump announced in his State of Union address an executive order to keep Guantanamo open for the detention of terrorists.
Loggerheads That put him at loggerheads with Britain, which is opposed to the use of the notorious camp and has paid £20 million (Dh101.89 million) in compensation to UK citizens and residents held there after the September 11 attacks. Kotey and Al Shaikh have been questioned by the CIA about possible terror plots in the West while it is understood that British intelligence officers have also been given access to them. The terrorists were members of the four-man Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) group’s execution squad, nicknamed ‘The Beatles’ by hostages because of their English accents. Mohammad Emwazi, its chief executioner — known as ‘Jihadi John’ — was killed in a US drone strike in 2015. Kotey, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Salih, and Al Shaikh are currently being held in SDF custody. Ministers will not stand in the way of any moves to extradite them to the US to be tried for the murders of at least 25 hostages, including two British aid workers — David Haines and Alan Henning — as well as three US citizens. Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, said last night: “I don’t think they should ever set foot in this country again.”
Stripped of citizenship? Sources have claimed Kotey and Al Shaikh have been stripped of their British citizenship while the Home Office declined — despite mounting pressure — to comment. If stripped of their citizenship, ministers would no longer be duty bound to object to their extradition to the US where they could face the death penalty. Ellwood told The Daily Telegraph: “We have robust rules of engagement which legitimise the killing of terrorists in theatres of operations, but once captured they must answer and by judged to a legitimate authority. “The horror of 9/11 meant we briefly lost sight of the standards and rule of law that took centuries to develop and fundamentally distinguish us from the terrorist.” He added: “Given the scale of foreign fighters we should consider an agreed international process involving The Hague, which ensures terrorists from any origin are transparently and fairly held account for their actions.”
Valuable information The pair have given “valuable” details on Daesh’s remaining leadership, sources said, but the priority for interrogators is said to be discovering any more Daesh plots aimed at the UK and the rest of the West. Kurdish sources have also said the men have helped to identify locations where they buried murdered hostages. According to the US State Department, Kotey had “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding”. A high-ranking US official said all options for where they would be tried were under consideration. Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway from the US Department of Defence said: “We are still considering options regarding Al Shaikh and Kotey. Rest assured our intention is to hold anyone accountable who commits acts like those they are alleged to have committed.”
Lord Carlile, the former UK Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said: “They should not go to Guantanamo. That is wholly inadvisable. If they remain British nationals they should be tried in Britain. The government must clarify their status.” The demand for clarity was echoed by Dominic Grieve, the Conservative MP, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and former Attorney-General. Little had been heard from the pair since Emwazi was killed by an air strike in late 2015, when they seemed to drop off US intelligence’s radar. They are both thought to have spent some time battling SDF forces to the south east of Raqqa, which had been the capital of the extremists so-called caliphate. Facing defeat there, the men travelled undetected to Raqqa province. Al Shaikh was reportedly captured earlier in the month and British officials informed three weeks ago. Nesrin Abdullah of the SDF said of Kotey: “He was trying to reach Turkey, he was in contact with several Daesh [militants] who were waiting for him on the other side of the border. He had been arranging to be smuggled out.” Initially refusing to speak, their identity was not clear until the SDF’s CIA colleagues carried out fingerprint tests on the detainees. It was only then they realised their high-profile catch.