The Beatles (terrorist cell)
"The Beatles", dubbed as such by their hostages because of their English accents, was an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group. Its members were nicknamed "John", "Paul", "George", and "Ringo" by the hostages, after the four members of the British rock group the Beatles. In November 2015, one of the militants was killed and one was arrested, and the final two were caught in early 2018.
They are responsible for beheadings in Iraq and Syria, most notably as shown in the beheading videos of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, in 2014. The group also guarded more than 20 Western hostages of ISIL in Western Raqqa, Syria. They were harsher than other ISIL guards, torturing captives with electroshock weapons and subjecting them to mock executions (including a crucifixion) and waterboarding.
The Beatles were a group of four, or three, British Muslims fighting for the extremist, jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Its members were nicknamed "John", "Paul", "George", and "Ringo" by the hostages, after the four members of the British rock group The Beatles.
They took hostages; guarded more than 20 Western hostages of ISIL in cramped cells in Western Raqqa, Syria; beheaded hostages; and memorialized their acts in beheading videos that they made public.
They always kept their faces hidden.
Guarding, torturing, and seeking ransoms for hostages
The Beatles, who were assigned responsibility for guarding foreign hostages by ISIL commanders, were harsher than other ISIL guards. One source said: "Whenever the Beatles showed up, there was some kind of physical beating or torture." They were the most feared of the jihadists because of their taste for the macabre and their beatings, use of electric shock Taser guns, mock executions (including a crucifixion of Foley), and waterboarding, according to a freed French hostage.
Because of their excessive brutality, at one point they were removed from their guard duties by ISIL.
The Beatles were interested in obtaining ransoms for their hostages. A former hostage reported that the Beatles bragged that they had been paid millions of dollars in ransoms by certain European countries; enough to retire to Kuwait or Qatar. The group contacted families of some UK hostages, and are believed to have maintained links with their associates and friends in the UK. James Foley's mother, Diane Foley, said in an interview: "their requests were impossible for us, 100 million Euros, or all Muslim prisoners to be freed. The requests from the terrorists were totally directed towards the government, really. And yet we as an American family had to figure out how to answer them."
The Beatles cell held at least 23 foreign hostages, nearly all of whom were ransomed or killed.
Jihadi John beheaded or participated in the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as British humanitarian aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, American aid worker Peter Kassig, Japanese private military contractor Haruna Yukawa, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and 22 members of the Syrian armed forces in a period from August 2014 to January 2015.
A former ISIS member said that using a British man to carry out the beheadings was likely a deliberate effort by ISIS to "project the image that a European, or a Western person, killed an American so that they can ... appeal to others outside Syria and make them feel that they belong to the same cause."
In August 2014, it was claimed that there were more than 20 hostages remaining. Many hostage families have chosen not to reveal their relatives' names in order to avoid drawing attention to them and compromising their safety.
The jihadist known as "John", the leader of the Beatles and usually referred to as "Jihadi John", was identified by The Washington Post, in February 2015, as Mohammed Emwazi, and appears in a video as Foley's killer. His identity was known to US and UK intelligence agencies in September 2014, but was not released for reasons of operational security. On 12 November 2015, a United States drone aircraft reportedly conducted an airstrike in Raqqa that targeted Emwazi as he left a building and entered a vehicle. US officials stated he had been killed, but his death had not been confirmed. The US was still analysing the data. The official called it a "flawless" and "clean hit" with no collateral damage and that Emwazi "evaporated". A senior US military official was quoted as saying, "we are 99% sure we got him". In January 2016, ISIL confirmed his death.
"George" often spent time repeating sections of the Quran and promoting ISIL's extremist views publicly. He uses the nom-de-guerre of "Abu Muhareb", which means "Fighter" in Arabic. The Daily Telegraph erroneously speculated that "George" was the West London jihadist Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary who may have travelled to Syria with fellow jihadist Mohammed Emwazi.
In 2016, Alexanda Kotey, a 32-year-old convert from west London, was identified as a member of the Beatles by The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News. They were uncertain whether he was "George" or "Ringo".
A few months later, another joint investigation by the Washington Post and BuzzFeed identified the last member of the group. El Shafee Elsheikh, a British citizen whose family fled Sudan in the 1990s, is a Londoner who had travelled to Syria in 2012. They were still uncertain as to whether Elsheikh or Kotey was "George".
In early January 2017, the US State Department froze the assets of Alexanda Kotey but did not confirm he was "George". In late March 2017, the US State Department froze the assets of El Shafee Elsheikh but did not confirm he was "George". In early 2018, Kurdish fighters caught both Kotey and Elsheikh in Syria near the border with Iraq, and handed them over to American officials, who confirmed their identities by biometrics and finger prints. The British citizenship of both men has been revoked.
According to a former hostage, Elsheikh was "George".
In 2016, Alexanda Kotey, a 32 year old convert from West London, was identified as a member of the Beatles by the Washington Post and BuzzFeed News. They were uncertain whether he was "George" or "Ringo".
A few months later, another joint investigation by the Washington Post and BuzzFeed identified the last member of the group. El Shafee Elsheikh, a British citizen whose family fled Sudan in the 1990s, is a Londoner who had traveled to Syria in 2012. They were still uncertain as to whether Elsheikh or Kotey was "Ringo".
In early January 2017, the U.S. State Department froze the assets of Alexanda Kotey but did not confirm he was "Ringo". In late March 2017, the U.S. State Department froze the assets of El Shafee Elsheikh but did not confirm he was "Ringo". In early 2018, Kurdish fighters caught both Kotey and Elsheikh in Syria near the border with Iraq, and handed them over to American officials, who confirmed their identities by biometrics and finger prints.
According to a former hostage, Kotey was "Ringo".
"Paul" played a smaller role in the group and did not appear until later in the detention of some of those held by the Islamic State. Aine Lesley Davis, reported to have been one of the British Islamists assigned to guard Western hostages, was arrested in Turkey on 13 November 2015. He was tried in Turkey in 2016 over allegations that he was plotting a terror attack there. On 9 May 2017, he was convicted of terrorism offences by a Turkish court and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
The use of "Beatles" as a nickname for the group elicited a response from English musician and former Beatle Ringo Starr, who expressed his disgust at the use of his former band's name in this context, saying: "It's bullshit. What they are doing out there is against everything The Beatles stood for," and adding that the Beatles had stood for peace and opposed violence.
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "British people are sickened that a British citizen could be involved in murdering people – including a fellow British citizen who had gone to Syria to help people – in this way. It is the very opposite of what our peaceful, tolerant country stands for."
A significant force of the British Special Air Service was deployed to Northern Iraq in late August 2014, and according to former MI6 chief Richard Barrett would be sent to Syria, tasked with trying to track down the Beatles using a range of high-tech equipment and with potentially freeing other hostages. As of September 2014, British intelligence and security agencies, including MI5 and Scotland Yard, aided by GCHQ communication monitoring, were working with the FBI and CIA, and field teams from MI6 and the CIA in Northern Syria, to identify and locate the group. British and US electronic eavesdropping agencies have targeted communications by the group.
Consideration of transfer to Guantanamo, Florence prison, or the Hague
On February 11, 2018, The Independent reported that the government of the United Kingdom was considering agreeing to transfer Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, the two remaining Beatles who were in Kurdish custody, to Guantanamo detention camps.
Detention in Guantanamo could be indefinite and without charge. If transferred to the U.S. for a civilian trial and convicted, they would likely be incarcerated at ADX Florence, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Another option under consideration is trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. According to The Independent, the UK government would strip Kotey and Elsheikh of UK citizenship prior to agreeing to transfer them to the Hague.
The UK government agreed to assist the USA legally without getting assurances that Kotey and Elsheikh would not face the death penalty. This was contrary to established UK practise but it was feared otherwise advisors to President Trump would be outraged and Trump would bear a grudge.
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one [hostage] is a 26-year-old woman who was kidnapped while doing humanitarian aid work in Syria, according to a family representative who asked that the hostage not be identified out of fear for her safety.
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Rob Merrick (11 February 2018). "Britain 'may not challenge' Donald Trump if he decides to send jihadi 'Beatles' to Guantanamo, Justice Secretary says: Britain has yet to make any representations to Washington because it must first 'consider our options, David Gauke says". The Independent. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
But he refused to say the Government would intervene if the US President opted to send the pair to the notorious detention centre in Cuba for suspected terrorists.
- UK dropped objection to death penalty for Isis suspects 'to appease US' The Guardian