US charges ISIS terrorists for brutal beheadings of Americans in Syria

A masked Islamic State militant holding a knife speaks next to man purported to be U.S. journalist James Foley at an unknown location in this still image from an undated video posted on a social media website. | REUTERS/Social Media Website via REUTERS TV

Two Islamic State militants aligned with the group’s most infamous executioner have been charged with the killing of four Americans in Syria, including Christian aid worker Kayla Mueller, by the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers announced the indictments of 36-year-old Alexanda Amon Kotey and 32-year-old El Shafee Elsheikh, who were part of a group of brutal Islamic State terrorists known as “The Beatles” because of their British accent.

The ringleader of the group, a man known as “Jihadi John” and seen in several execution videos publicized by the group, was killed in an airstrike in 2016. 

“The defendants are charged with terrorism offenses relating to the hostage-taking and killing of four Americans, as well as nationals of the United Kingdom and Japan,” Demers explained. “For approximately a year, Kotey and Elsheikh were held in Iraq by the U.S. military under the law of armed conflict. I am pleased to confirm that they are now in FBI custody and will soon land in the United States and appear in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.”

The brutal terror group, which took over large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and enslaved and killed thousands of people, is responsible for the death of journalist James Foley, journalist Steven Sotloff, aid worker Peter Kassig as well as Mueller, the 26-year-old aid worker who accompanied a friend to Syria when she was taken hostage in 2013. 

“Many around the world are familiar with the barbaric circumstances of their tragic deaths. But we will not remember these Americans for their deaths,” Demers said. “We will remember them for the good and decent lives they lived.”

Foley, a former elementary school teacher, was a print and video reporter who served as a freelance war correspondent covering the civil war in Syria. He was beheaded by IS militants in a video posted by the terror group in August 2014, one of the first of many executions videos that shocked the conscience of the world. He was 40 years old. Following his death, his family received a phone call from Pope Francis. 

In Foley’s execution video, an IS hostage revealed that the terror group was also holding another American-Israeli journalist, Sotloff. In a video posted in September 2014, a militant is shown beheading Sotloff, who is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. Sotloff’s beheading further angered the U.S. government as President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. would work to “degrade and destroy” IS. 

Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger and Indianapolis native who served as a humanitarian worker in Syria, was killed in an execution video released in October 2014. 

In a statement, the Kassig family said they are “relieved” by the indictments. 

“Although nothing can bring our son back, we are grateful that his alleged captors will face justice in the form of a fair trial under U.S. criminal laws,” the family said in a statement released to The Indy Star

Mueller, a devout Christian aid worker and activist from Arizona, was abducted for 18 months during which she was reportedly sexually abused and forced into marriage with IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She was killed in 2015. Mueller’s case was raised on the debate stage Wednesday night by Vice President Mike Pence. 

“My message to other terrorists is this — if you harm an American, you will face the same fate as these men,” Demers said. “You will face American arms on the battlefield, and if you survive, you will face American justice in an American courtroom with the prospect of many years in an American prison. Either way, you will never live in peace — you will be pursued to the ends of the earth. No matter how long it may take, we will never forget, and we will never quit.”

Demers said that the indictments should remind the American public that terrorists are “hell-bent on imposing their ideologies on a world that continues to reject them.”

“Although our nation faces a variety of national security threats from many quarters, we will not relent in our efforts to protect America and her citizens from the threat posed by terrorists,” Demers said. 

The assistant attorney general added that the justice the U.S. is seeking will “extend to many people in numerous other countries around the world.”

“We all have to do our part in confronting and defeating ISIS,” he said. 

Last week, the Justice Department announced that the U.S. has repatriated 27 Americans from Syria and Iraq being held by Syrian Democratic Forces, including 10 charged with terrorism-related offenses for their support of IS. 

Among them are Emraan Ali and Jihad Ali, who made their initial appearance at a federal court in Florida. Both of them are accused of receiving military and religious training as well as serving as fighters in support of IS. They surrendered to the SDF near Baghuz in March 2019. 

On Sept. 16, Abdelhamid Al-Madioum, a Morocco native and naturalized U.S. citizen, made his initial appearance in a federal court in Minnesota on charges for providing material support to IS by traveling to Syria to join the terror group. He was captured by the SDF in March 2019. 

Lirim Sylejmani was indicted in a federal court in Washington, D.C. He is a Kosovo-born naturalized U.S. citizen who is accused of attempting to provide material support to IS and receiving training from the group. 

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