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British IS torturers should spend life in prison, says victim's mother

Mother of James Foley says Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh committed crimes 'beyond imagination' as part of IS torture gang
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured in Syria in January (screengrab)

The mother of an American journalist tortured and murdered by an infamous British cell of Islamic State militants dubbed "The Beatles" has said she hopes two of its members will spend their lives in prison after their capture in Syria.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were reported on Thursday to be in American custody after their capture by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in January.

I would like them to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Their crimes are beyond imagination

- Diane Foley, mother of murdered journalist

They formed part of a IS cell dubbed "The British Beatles" by their prisoners because of their accents. It was led by Mohammed Emwazi, and according to US officials the "execution cell" beheaded at least 27 hostages, including James Foley in August 2014, and tortured many more.

His mother Diane Foley, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on Friday that the group's crimes were "beyond imagination".

"I think it's very important that when people execute such horrible atrocities that they be found and brought to justice," said Diane Foley.

"It doesn't bring James back but hopefully it protects others from this kind of crime.

"It's important to me that they be held accountable for their horrible actions and for continuing to perpetuate this form of hatred."

She said she would like to see the British men in a US court - however the most important thing was that justice was served.

James Foley was killed by IS in 2014. His murderer is believed to be Mohammed Emwazi (supplied)

"I would like them to spend the rest of their lives being detained in a prison. Their crimes are beyond imagination. 

"I would like them to be brought to trial in the US but as long as they are brought to fair trial and justice is served I would be most grateful."

However, it is unclear whether the men will face justice in the US or the UK. British Foreign Office officials have declined to comment on the case, amid speculation that the pair may have had their UK citizenship removed using power available to the Home Office.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has not received a request from any foreign government to hand over two British Islamic State (IS) group militants in its custody but will study any such request if made, a senior SDF official told Reuters on Friday.

"We have not received any official request from any international party to hand over the two prisoners," Redur Xelil, the SDF official, said. Any such request would be studied, he added.

Xelil also confirmed that officials from the US-led coalition against IS had taken part in the questioning of the two Britons, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who were captured by the SDF last month.

The pair could potentially face trail in the US, as they were allegedly involved in the murder of US hostages, but it is thought this may be complicated by a desire by some in the Trump administration to send them to Guantanamo Bay.

What is clear is that the men could provide valuable intelligence to US and UK officials following their capture. They may be able to shed light on how many of the thousands of foreign fighters who travelled to Iraq and Syria survived, and whether they are likely to travel home.

Their capture, which was first reported in the New York Times, came in January but the paper reported that officials wanted to keep the news secret after confirming the fighters identity using fingerprints and other biometric data.

Intelligence leads

The aim was "to allow analysts more time to pursue intelligence leads," the newspaper reported, and the families of the victims were not aware of the capture until media reports on Thursday night.

Emwazi, the ringleader, was killed in a drone attack in Syria in 2015. The gang's fourth member, Aine Davis, was sentenced to seven years in a Turkish prison last year on terrorism charges.

According to the State Department, Kotey "likely engaged in the group's executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding".

Kotey also acted as an IS recruiter and was responsible for recruiting several other British nationals to join the organisation.  Kotey and Elsheikh were the last two members of the cell to remain at large.

The State Department said "Elsheikh was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions and crucifixions while serving as an IS jailer".  

The US government said the group beheaded more than 27 hostages, including Foley and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, on camera.

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