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Member of ‘Beatles’ IS cell set to plead guilty in US court on Syria beheadings

Court documents show British citizen Alexanda Amon Kotey, whose cell murdered US-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff and others, has a scheduled change of plea hearing

Alexanda Amon Kotey, allegedly among four British jihadis who made up a brutal Islamic State cell dubbed "The Beatles," speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at a security center in Kobani, Syria, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
Alexanda Amon Kotey, allegedly among four British jihadis who made up a brutal Islamic State cell dubbed "The Beatles," speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at a security center in Kobani, Syria, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

One of two British nationals charged in the United States with joining the Islamic State terror group and conspiring to torture and behead American and European hostages in Syria is scheduled to plead guilty to criminal charges.

Federal court records show a change of plea hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, for Alexanda Amon Kotey.

Kotey is one of four Islamic State members who were dubbed “the Beatles” by their captives because of their British accents.

Kotey and another man, El Shafee Elsheikh, were brought to the US last year to face charges.

Court documents do not indicate the specific charge or charges to which Kotey is expected to plead. The indictment charges them in connection with the deaths of Israeli-American journalist Steven Sotloff and three other Americans — journalist James Foley and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — as well as European and Japanese nationals who were also held captive.

The US Justice Department, in order to obtain their extradition, promised neither defendant would face a death sentence.

Nothing in the court records indicates that Elsheikh has reached a plea deal.

Alexanda Amon Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh, who were allegedly among four British jihadis who made up a brutal Islamic State cell dubbed ‘The Beatles,’ during an interview with The Associated Press at a security center in Kobani, Syria, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

Raj Parekh, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and also a member of the prosecution team on the Kotey and Elsheikh cases, declined comment Tuesday evening.

Geremy Kamens, a federal public defender who represents Kotey, also declined comment.

A third Beatle, Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John,” was killed in a 2015 drone strike. A fourth member is serving a prison sentence in Turkey.

The indictment says Kotey and Elsheikh radicalized in London and left for Syria in 2012 as “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” that targeted American and European citizens and that involved murders, mock executions, shocks with Tasers, physical restraints and other brutal acts.

Prosecutors say the men worked closely with a chief spokesman for IS who reported to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in a US military operation last year.

Screen capture from a video showing US-Israeli citizen Steven Sotloff with an Islamic State terrorist. (JTA)

The indictment accuses Kotey and Elsheikh of participating in the kidnapping of Foley and other captives. It says they supervised detention facilities for hostages and were responsible for transferring the captives, and that they also engaged “in a long pattern of physical and psychological violence.”

In July, prosecutors described the pair as “principal offenders” in the captivity of the four American hostages. Assuming Thursday’s plea hearing goes forward as scheduled, Kotey and prosecutors would submit a statement of facts that will spell out in at least some detail the specific actions that he took.

The two were captured in Syria in 2018 by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape to Turkey. In interviews they gave before being brought to the US, the men acknowledged they helped collect email addresses from Mueller that could be used to send out ransom demands. Mueller was killed in 2015 after 18 months in IS captivity.

The indictment describes the execution of a Syrian prisoner in 2014 and says the two forced their Western hostages to watch. Kotey instructed the hostages to kneel while watching the execution and holding signs pleading for their release. Emwazi shot the prisoner in the back of the head while Elsheikh videotaped the execution. Elsheikh told one of the hostages, “You’re next,” prosecutors say.

Elsheikh is scheduled to go on trial in January.

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