British ISIS militant was trying to reach Turkey, says official

Kotey (above) was intending to escape towards Turkey with the help of friends, said a Kurdish official.
Kotey (above) was intending to escape towards Turkey with the help of friends, said a Kurdish official.PHOTO: ITV NEWS

BEIRUT/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - One of two British Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants known for their role in the torture and killings of Western hostages in Syria was aiming to reach Turkey when he was captured by Kurdish-led forces last month, a Kurdish official said on Friday (Feb 9).

US officials said on Thursday that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed militia force, had captured Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two of four militants known as the "Beatles" for their English accents.

US and European officials said on Friday that Britain, the United States and officials in the region are discussing what should happen with the two militants.

"Together with our coalition partners, we are still considering options regarding Elsheikh and Kotey, but rest assured there is a common intention to hold anyone accountable who commits acts like those they are alleged to have committed," said a spokesman for the US National Security Council.

British government officials declined to comment.

Senior SDF official Redur Xelil told Reuters that Kotey was captured in a rural area of Raqqa province on Jan 24.

"He was intending to escape towards Turkey with cooperation and coordination with friends of his on the Turkish side," Xelil said. "He is now under investigation with us," he said.

 

Xelil gave no information about the second militant, Elsheikh.

A senior security official in Turkey, however, accused the SDF of anti-Turkish propaganda, saying it was "nonsense" that an ISIS militant would say they were going to Turkey, and that Ankara was taking every step to eliminate ISIS militants in Turkey.

"It is not that easy to cross the border without permission, there is a wall as well," said the official.

The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has consistently accused Turkey of supporting ISIS militants in northern Syria, where the US-led coalition has helped the SDF to drive the militants from swathes of territory.

In 2016, Turkey launched a military incursion into northern Syria to drive back ISIS fighters from the border, and it has built a wall along its 911km frontier to try to halt infiltration.

Turkish authorities have also detained hundreds of people across Turkey suspected of being Islamic State members since ISIS fighters were defeated in the Syrian city of Raqqa in October by the SDF.

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

It launched an offensive into the Kurdish Afrin region of northwestern Syria on Jan 20, aiming to crush the YPG.

The senior Turkish security official said: "Turkey is open to joint cooperation, including intelligence, with all its international partners. Turkey has been fighting with IS in every way both inside the country and abroad."

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the British government had revoked the British citizenship of both Kotey and Elsheikh.

Britain has taken similar action in the past against dual nationals who left Britain to join militant groups abroad. In the case of a former London resident who joined the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab, the militant Mahdi Hashi was sent for a federal court trial on terrorism related charges in New York.

Hashi pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Al-Shabaab and was sentenced to nine years in US prison.

Laura Pitter, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch, said that if the United States were to take custody of the captured militants, they should also be tried in the US court system.

"The US should not jeopardise their prosecutions by sending them to the dysfunctional military commissions at Guantanamo where important cases involving serious crimes have languished for years," said Pitter, referring to the prison camp on a US military base where inmates have been held without trial.