US Takes Members of British ISIS Cell Accused of Killing Americans Into Custody
WASHINGTON -- The US military has taken two high-profile members of a British ISIS cell into custody, according to three US officials. Two officials said the transfer was made Wednesday.
It comes amid US concerns that the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria could result in ISIS prisoners escaping from undermanned prisons guarded by Syrian Democratic Forces inside Syria.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that some of the most dangerous ISIS prisoners had been moved, "putting them in other areas where it's secure," a possible reference to the high-profile British ISIS detainees.
One of the US officials said there are plans to bring the two ISIS members, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, to the US for prosecution. The two, who have been held in northern Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces for more than a year, were part of an ISIS cell dubbed the "Beatles."
The Washington Post was first to report the two men have been taken into US custody.
Officials would not say where the men are currently being held by the US military but one official said they had not yet been moved to the US. A US defense official confirmed that "two high-profile ISIS prisoners" had been transferred from Syrian Democratic Forces detention to US military custody Wednesday but would not confirm their identities. The official said they were now being held in a secure location outside Syria in a manner "pursuant to the law of armed conflict."
Kotey is accused by the US State Department of having "likely engaged in the group's executions and exceptionally cruel torture" of Western journalists and aid worker hostages. Elsheikh "was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions," according to the State Department.
Their ISIS execution cell is accused by the State Department of "holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages," including James Foley, American journalist Steven Sotloff and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
The US effort to take them into custody has moved in fits and starts in recent months. Complications arose because of British legal issues that could prevent the UK from sharing evidence the US needs to prosecute the men.
Given the fast-moving developments in Syria, Attorney General William Barr in recent days asked President Donald Trump to make the transfer a priority, and he signed off.
US officials have long warned of the vulnerability of the "pop-up prisons" housing some 11,000 to 12,000 ISIS fighters captured on the battlefield, 2,000 of whom are foreigners not from Iraq or Syria. Several hundred of the prisoners are believed to be from Europe.
(PHOTO: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)