Sunday 20 January 2019

Former hostage calls for trial for captured Isil militants

Former hostage held by 'The Beatles' wants to see them in court, and not sent to Guantanamo

Captured: ‘Beatles’ Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh. Photo: Reuters
Captured: ‘Beatles’ Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh. Photo: Reuters

Lizzie Dearden

Two captured British Isis militants should not be given the "satisfaction" of being put to death and becoming martyrs, a former hostage has said.

Nicolas Henin, a French journalist, was one of the few captives to survive brutal detention at the hands of the cell that became known as "The Beatles" in Syria. He wants his former jailers, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, to face a fair trial for their crimes.

"The death penalty would achieve what these people claim they wanted when they went to Syria - martyrdom," Mr Henin said last week. "You don't give your enemy such satisfaction."

Mr Henin does not believe the Kurdish militias who have Kotey and Elsheikh in custody have the capacity for a thorough legal process. "Guantanamo Bay wouldn't be a satisfying solution either, as it is a denial of justice," he added. "What I want is an incontestable trial, as fair as possible, where my captors would have all the chances to defend themselves. We must absolutely prevent them reversing the situation by depicting them as victims. We were the victims, not them. If they don't get justice, they will use it to fuel propaganda."

Mr Henin was freed four months before the group beheaded his former cellmate James Foley in 2014, starting a string of murders including aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and Americans Peter Kassig and Steven Sotloff. Executioner Mohammed Emwazi became known as 'Jihadi John' and was killed in a drone strike, while his fellow 'Beatle' Aine Davis is imprisoned in Turkey.

The remaining two members of the cell - Kotey (34) and Elsheikh (29) - remained at large until they were caught by the Syrian Democratic Forces in January. They have been questioned by US officials following identification using biometric data and other tools.

Hostages have told of their brutality, which included torture, waterboarding, electric shocks, mock executions, and crucifixions. Mr Henin was the first Western journalist to enter Syria after the uprising started, being kidnapped in June 2013 alongside photographer Pierre Torres while filming in Raqqa, which would later become Isil's self-declared capital.

He described all four 'Beatles' as "arrogant, considering themselves as the elite forces of the 'caliphate', connected to the highest level of the leadership of the group, and regularly brutal".

The journalist believed that other jihadis involved in his capture may still be at large but said knowing Kotey and Elsheikh were behind bars was important to his recovery.

"I feel much better. I believe former hostages and the families of those murdered largely share my feelings. We all are looking for justice. It will not bring us what we lost, a year in our life or even a son, but it's still necessary," he said.

While Isil's self-declared caliphate across Iraq and Syria has collapsed, leaving small pockets of militants surrounded in border areas, it continues efforts to inspire terror attacks around the world and has spread to Afghanistan, Libya and Egypt.

"I'm still happy to see this monstrosity collapsing, also for the welfare of the local population, but am worried of the persistence of a lot of its ideas in the mind of people, both in the Middle East and in Europe," Mr Henin said.

Relatives of the hostages tortured and murdered by 'The Beatles' have spoken of their relief. Bethany Haines, whose father David was killed in 2014 after being held captive for 18 months, said she hoped Kotey and Elsheikh's detention could bring closure.

"In my opinion, they shouldn't be breathing, but that's not a realistic kind of expectation," she said. "I think that they should be locked up with the key thrown away and never released."

Diane Foley, the mother of the first hostage to be beheaded, said the arrests will not bring her son back, but "hopefully it protects others from this kind of crime".

"Their crimes are beyond imagination," she said. "They really have not done anything good in the world, so I think they need to spend the rest of their life being held."

Elsheikh came to the UK as a child from Sudan, when his family were granted refugee status, and lived in White City, west London. He had links to local gangs as a teenager, with his older brother jailed for gun possession, and was not religious until he was introduced to a radical preacher.

He travelled to Syria in 2012 and joined al-Qaeda's regional branch before an internal dispute led to a splinter group creating Isil.

Kotey was born in London, he is half-Ghanaian, half-Greek Cypriot and grew up in Shepherd's Bush. He converted to Islam in his early 20s, and left two young children in Britain when he travelled to Gaza in 2009 as part of an aid convoy organised by former MP George Galloway.


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