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DOJ To Charge 2 British Nationals Suspected Of Being ISIS Members

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We turn now to the Justice Department. NPR has learned that the U.S. expects to announce charges this week against two British nationals. They're suspected of being part of an Islamic State cell that killed American hostages. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now with more.

Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right. So who exactly are these two men expecting to face charges here?

LUCAS: So the two men are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh. They are accused of being part of a notorious Islamic State cell in Syria that was made up of four men with British accents. Because of that, they were given the nickname of the Beatles. And this cell held Western hostages, including Americans, and they subjected these hostages to horrific abuse.

What ultimately made this cell so notorious, though, were the videos that it released in 2014 in which a masked man dressed in black, speaking in a British accent, killed hostages on camera. The first of those was an American journalist, James Foley. Two other Americans, journalist Steven Sotloff and an aid worker, Peter Kassig, were also killed on camera. The militants also beheaded British and Japanese citizens. I was in the Middle East at the time covering the Syria conflict when these videos came out. The Islamic State was well-known for atrocities. But even so, these videos were really shocking at the time.

CHANG: But clear something up for me. I mean, as we mentioned, these two men are both British nationals. We're talking about alleged crimes that happened in Syria. So why would these men be brought to the U.S. to face trial?

LUCAS: This has actually been in the works for a very long time. The U.S. first requested evidence from Britain back in 2015 to help prosecute these guys. The U.K. at first balked because of the possibility that the U.S. could seek the death penalty in the case. Elsheikh's mother also filed a lawsuit in the U.K. to challenge any transfer of evidence or putting them on trial here. Attorney General William Barr this summer then assured the British government that the U.S. would not seek the death penalty in this case if they were brought here. That helped move things along. And then last month, the British court cleared the way for the U.K. government to share its evidence with U.S. authorities.

Now, the other two suspected members of this ISIS cell, by the way - they are already off the board. The ringleader, a man who was known as Jihadi John - he was killed in a drone strike in 2015. The other was captured in Turkey, where he was tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Now we have the two remaining suspected members, Kotey and Elsheikh, who are expected to face justice here in the U.S.

CHANG: Right. OK. So do we know anything more specific about the charges that they're going to be facing?

LUCAS: At this point, we do not. But my sources tell me that the Justice Department is expected to unveil charges against them this week. Now, these two were captured in Syria in 2018 by Kurdish allies of the U.S. They've been held at an American military base in Iraq, but they are expected to be transferred to the U.S. in the near future for trial. And that will be welcome news to the families of their victims who have urged the American government to do exactly this - to bring these men to the U.S. to face trial and bring them to justice.

Now, in interviews with media outlets since their capture, Kotey and Elsheikh have admitted that they belong to the Islamic State, but they have denied any role in the killings of hostages. They said that they helped facilitate ransom negotiations with families and governments. But we will see what the specific charges are here. And that will then set the stage for what's going to be one of the biggest terrorism trials in this country in many years.

CHANG: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas.

Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.