Two notorious ISIS members to stand trial in US

The US Justice Department announced on Wednesday that two British members of ISIS, part of a group of four, whom hostages dubbed “the Beatles,” because of their British accents, had been flown from Iraq to the US, where they will stand trial.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US Justice Department announced on Wednesday that two British members of ISIS, part of a group of four, whom hostages dubbed “the Beatles,” because of their British accents, had been flown from Iraq to the US, where they will stand trial.

The two men—Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh—were captured in January 2018, in Syria, by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the ISIS “caliphate” was collapsing, and they attempted to flee to Turkey, an indictment issued by the Justice Department explains. 

The Beatles 

The leader of the “Beatles,” Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a US airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, in November 2015.

Emwazi was a Kuwaiti “Bidoon”—which means “without” in Arabic. They are without citizenship and constitute a category of people in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, who lack political rights and suffer significant discrimination.

Just why they lack citizenship is unclear. Perhaps, they were originally bedouin, who regularly crossed the borders of what, in the twentieth century, became the states of the Middle East.

As Minority Rights Group International explained, “The situation of Bidoon in Kuwait is only one manifestation of a regional problem, with 500,000 people believed to be Bidoon across the Gulf region.”

Emwazi, who was known as Jihadi John, was born in Kuwait. His family emigrated to Britain in 1994, when he was six years old. He was regularly seen in ISIS propaganda videos, as he beheaded hostages seized by the terrorist group.

Emwazi became involved in the radical Islamic politics of Britain, before he left for Syria in August 2012. He was just 24 years old then, reflecting a common phenomenon that many foreign fighters attracted to such groups as ISIS, al Qaida, etc. are often young men.

Kotey, who is now in US detention, facing trial in Alexandria, Virginia, is the son of a Ghanian father and a Greek Cypriot mother. Born in London and five years older than Emwazi, Kotey is a convert to Islam. He attended the same mosque as Emwazi and left with him for Syria in August 2012—roughly a year and a half after the Syrian civil war began—but before ISIS existed (it was founded in late 2012.)

ElSheikh, the same age as Emwazi, was born in Sudan and came to Britain with his family as a child. Like the other two, he became involved in radical Islamic politics and left Britain in April 2012 for Syria, where he joined the Nusra Front, as the US indictment explains.

The fourth member of the group, Aine Lesley Davis, is, like Kotey, a convert, and attended the same mosque as Kotey and Emwazi. Davis had a criminal record in Britain. He was convicted of illegal gun possession and served time in prison. He was also involved in drug-dealing.

Davis left for Syria in 2013. In November 2015, he was arrested in Istanbul. Turkish authorities charged that he was plotting a terrorist attack in their country. Tried and convicted, Davis remains in a Turkish prison. 

Murder and Hostage-taking 

Through the propaganda videos that ISIS released, the Beatles became notorious for their unabashed, sadistic brutality. As The Guardian reported, they are thought to have tortured and killed over two dozen hostages.

Their hostage taking began just three months after Emwazi and Kotey left for Syria. In November 2012, they kidnapped James Foley, an American journalist, as well as a British citizen, the indictment explains.

More kidnappings, including of three Americans, followed. One of the Americans was a woman: Kayla Mueller, a human rights activist, humanitarian aid worker, and a devout Christian. She was kidnapped in August 2013. A year later, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the titular head of ISIS, began to rape her.

In November 2013, the “Beatles” began sending emails to the family members of those whom they held hostage, demanding a ransom, the indictment explains. No ransom was ever paid for an American hostage. In the end, all four were killed, and Kotey and Elsheikh are now charged with their murders. 

Afia Siddiqui, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Ammar al-Baluchi 

The Beatles emails to two of the families included a demand for the release from a US prison of a Pakistani woman, Aafia Siddiqui.

Siddiqui comes from a prominent, religiously conservative family in Pakistan and had a brother in the US, where she did her college studies. She arrived in the US in 1991, and four years later, she received a Bachelor’s degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2001, she earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Brandeis University.

Siddiqui was passionately involved in Muslim political causes, which led her first husband to divorce her in 2002. As he later charged, the well-being of “our family was not her prime goal in life. Instead it was to gain prominence in Muslim circles.”

In early 2003, Siddiqui married Ammar al-Baluchi, whom US authorities have charged with playing a key role in the 9/11 attacks.

Baluchi was based in Dubai, prior to 9/11. He was involved in transferring money to the hijackers in America. In addition, many of them had little experience of the US. Before coming to America, they met with Baluchi in Dubai, and he coached them on how to behave in the US.

Ammar al-Baluchi, whom US authorities have charged with playing a key role in the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: International Committee of the Red Cross)
Ammar al-Baluchi, whom US authorities have charged with playing a key role in the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: International Committee of the Red Cross)

US authorities say that Baluchi is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who masterminded the 9/11 attacks—that is, he directed and organized them.

Six years before, in 1995, KSM had conspired with Ramzi Yousef to bomb a dozen US airliners in the Philippines. Two years before that, Yousef, whom US authorities say is another nephew of KSM, masterminded the first attack on New York’s World Trade Center: the 1993 bombing of the north tower, intended to topple that building onto its twin and bring them both down.

The 1995 plot to bomb US airliners went awry, when, on January 6, as Yousef was mixing explosives in the kitchen sink of his Manilla apartment, he accidentally started a fire. Yousef initially managed to flee, but a month later, he was arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan. 

Read More: Revisiting Ramzi Yousef’s terrorism: World Trade Center bombing and Philippines plane bombing plot 

KSM would go on to join al Qaida after 1996, when Osama bin Laden was exiled from Sudan to Afghanistan (at US request.) Having joined with bin Laden, KSM plotted more attacks on the US, including the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa and 9/11 itself.

He was captured on March 1, 2003, and, like Yousef, he was captured in Islamabad. Baluchi was captured in Karachi two months later, on April 29.

KSM was subject to waterboarding over 180 times, and he identified Siddiqui as an al Qaida courier. But by then, she had disappeared, and the FBI issued a call for information about her.

An FBI poster of Aafia Siddiqui. (Photo: FBI)
An FBI poster of Aafia Siddiqui. (Photo: FBI)

In 2008, Siddiqui appeared in Ghazni, Afghanistan, behaving erratically. Afghan police arrested her.

“Various documents, various chemicals, and a computer thumb drive” were found in her possession, the US indictment of Siddiqui explains.

The documents included “handwritten notes that referred to a ‘mass casualty attack’ and that listed various locations in the United States, including Plum Island,” in New York, the indictment states, along with four other New York sites: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

“In addition, certain notes referred to the construction of ‘dirty bombs,’ chemical and biological weapons, and other explosives,” it continues. “These notes also discussed mortality rates associated with certain of these weapons and explosives.”

Siddiqui stood trial in New York in 2010 and was sentenced to 86 years in prison. The legal proceedings were accompanied by questions about her mental health, and she is serving her sentence at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

It should be noted that KSM, Ramzi Yousef, and Baluchi are not Arab, as most people, Americans, as well as non-Americans, believe. They are all Baluch: a Sunni Muslim people, largely traditional and tribal, whose homeland, Baluchistan, was divided among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Notably, successive Sunni governments in Baghdad, going back to the days of the monarchy, have used the Sunni Baluch in their long-standing rivalry with Shi’ite Iran. 

Read More: Saddam and the Baluch 

It is unclear why ISIS sought Siddiqui’s release, although other terrorist groups, including al Qaida, the Taliban, and Tehrik-i-Taliban, had earlier made the same demand.

Editing by John J. Catherine