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ISIS Members Accused of Beheadings Face Death Penalty in America as U.K. Drops Opposition to Execution

The U.K. has informed Attorney General Jeff Sessions that it will not demand that the U.S. spare the death penalty in the case of two men accused of being members of the Islamic State militant group.  

The U.K., which opposes capital punishment, generally seeks a “death penalty assurance” if its citizens are sent to court in a country that uses this practice, such as the U.S. However, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said that his country will not seek this assurance for arrested jihadists Alexanda Kotey and Sahfee El-Sheikh, two men accused of being members of the British Islamic State cell nicknamed “the Beatles,” which was responsible for a number of beheadings in Iraq and Syria.

The group became well known for producing videos depicting the beheading of Western prisoners, including American journalist James Foley, in which the executioner spoke with a British accent. The cell was a major component of the terrorist group’s propaganda machine.

Kotey and El-Sheikh were captured in January by a U.S.-backed group in Syria and have reportedly been stripped of their British citizenship. They are expected to be extradited to the U.S. to face criminal prosecution.

In his letter to Sessions, which was leaked to the British publication The Telegraph, Javid said that the U.K. is willing to drop its opposition to the use of the death penalty in the case of these two prisoners, and would not voice opposition if the men were sent to the infamous U.S. detention camp Guantanamo Bay.

“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought,” Javid wrote. “As you are aware, it is the long-held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK government’s stance on the global abolition of the death penalty.”

The letter also said that the British government believes it is more likely the men will be prosecuted successfully in the U.S. because British law “may not be robust enough.” The letter was widely condemned by human rights groups and British opposition leaders, who said the home secretary was unilaterally changing his country’s longstanding position on the death penalty. British Prime Minister Theresa May said she is aware of the position outlined in the letter.

Diane Foley, the mother of murdered journalist James Foley, told the BBC that she does not want the men to be executed if they are found guilty. “I think that would just make them martyrs in their twisted ideology. I would like them held accountable by being sent to prison for the rest of their lives,” Foley told the BBC. 

The two men have not renounced ISIS and have shown no regret over the atrocities they committed in Syria.  

“Watching them, I would lose no sleep if they were denied a fair hearing. But choosing revenge over justice would be a mistake,” Nadim Houry, director of Human Rights Watch’s program for terrorism and counterterrorism, wrote in a statement about the case of Kotey and El-Sheikh. “Fair trials speak to our commitment to due process and the rule of law in the face of despicable acts. It is also about remembering the victims of ISIS and their relatives – many of whom have refused to fall into the trap of revenge.”

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