Two ex-British alleged Islamic State (IS) suspects have been charged in the US with terrorism offences over the killing of four American hostages.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are accused of belonging to an IS cell dubbed “The Beatles” involved in kidnappings in Iraq and Syria.
The pair are being held in FBI custody and will appear in a US federal court in Virginia later.
The men, who had been in US custody in Iraq, previously denied the charges.
US Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a press conference the charges were “the result of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice” for the four Americans who died – James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.
Addressing the families of the victims, he said: “Although we cannot bring back your children, we will do all that we can do: obtain justice for them, for you, and for all Americans.”
He added: “These men will now be brought before a United States court to face justice for the depraved acts alleged against them in the indictment.”
The charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The pair are alleged to have been members of an IS gang – nicknamed by hostages after the 1960s pop group due to their British accents – which was responsible for the death of hostages in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Some of the victims – who included American journalists and UK and US aid workers – were beheaded and their deaths filmed and broadcast on social media.
Kotey and Elsheikh, originally from west London, were previously stripped of their UK nationality.
The charges they face are:
- Conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death
- Hostage taking resulting in death
- Conspiracy to murder United States citizens outside of the United States
- Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists – hostage taking and murder – resulting in death
- Conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation resulting in death
The IS group’s alleged ringleader, Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John” died in a drone strike in 2016.
Referring to his death, Mr Demers said he had “faced a different kind of American resolve – the mighty reach of our military, which successfully targeted him in an air strike several years ago”.
‘Strongest case possible’
The assistant attorney general was asked by reporters whether the death penalty was not being sought solely because the UK government had made it a requirement in return for its co-operation.
“The attorney general decided that we should provide the death penalty assurance in order to get the British evidence and see that justice could be done more expeditiously than if we had to continue to litigate this issue in the courts in the United Kingdom,” Mr Demers said.
“The decision was to try to keep the option (of seeking the death penalty) open at first but ultimately that didn’t work.”
Last month the UK sent evidence to the US following assurances the two men would not face the death penalty.
Mr Demers added: “We decided that if we were going to do this case, we were going to tell the fullest story we could of what these defendants did and we were going to put on the strongest case possible. And with the British evidence I think we can do that very well.”
FBI director Christopher Wray told the press conference: “We mourn not only our American victims but also the British victims David Haines and Alan Henning, and victims of all nations who suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of Isis.”
Mike Haines, whose aid worker brother David was killed by the IS cell in 2014, said he was relieved “the fate of these two men is closer to being decided but this is just the beginning”.
“The pain we experienced as families was excruciating when we lost our loved ones and the last three years have been a long, horrible waiting game,” he said.
“It was a big win for us knowing that the US courts would be taking this forward because we have been waiting years since they were first detained.”
British photojournalist John Cantlie was kidnapped with Mr Foley, and his fate is still unknown.
It has taken nearly eight years to reach this moment – from the day that James Foley and John Cantlie were taken hostage in Syria to the reading out of the indictment against two of the alleged perpetrators, both now in US custody.
The eight charges against them are so serious that each one carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The defendants have previously denied the charges linked to their alleged involvement in the murder of US and British hostages.
But both the US and British governments appear confident that there is a strong case for the prosecution.
Over the course of the coming trial the court is likely to hear some harrowing testimony from those who survived IS captivity – men whose freedom was ransomed in exchange for millions of Euros while their fellow prisoners from the US and Britain suffered horrific deaths at the hands of their captors.
IS once controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq and imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people.
The liberation of that territory exposed the magnitude of the abuses inflicted by the jihadist group, including summary killings, torture, amputations, ethno-sectarian attacks, rape and sexual slavery imposed on women and girls. Hundreds of mass graves containing the remains of thousands of people have been discovered.
UN investigators have concluded that IS militants committed acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Murkowski to back Barrett for Supreme Court, despite opposing GOP process
Sen. Lisa Murkowski will vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite her opposition to moving forward in an election year.
The Alaska Republican said Saturday she will split her votes on Barrett. She will vote against a procedural hurdle on Sunday to advance her nomination over a filibuster, due to her longstanding objection to confirming a justice so close to the Nov. 3 presidential election.
But based on the merits of Barrett’s credentials for the job, she’s a ‘yes.’
Tension Has Escalated Between Tory MPs And Marcus Rashford Ahead Of A Vote On Free School Meals
4 min read
Tories must face up to their “conscience” today on a vote on extending free school meals over the holidays, Labour has claimed, as footballer and anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford ramped up the pressure on politicians to back it.
The challenge from shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq came after another difficult morning for the government as Manchester United star Rashford said he was “paying close attention” to the vote and then got into a Twitter spat with Tory MP Steve Baker over who has the power to introduce the free meals.
Moments later Tory backbencher Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot in Devon, broke ranks to say she would be supporting Labour’s motion on extending the free school meals until next Easter. Education select committee chair Conservavtive Robert Halfon has urged the government to work with Rashford.
When asked at Prime Minister’s Questions to back the proposal by Labour, Boris Johnson said the government wanted to use the benefits system to support children in the hoildays.
“I want to make sure we continue to support families thoughout the crisis so they have the cash available to feed their kids as they need to do,” he said.
Earlier this week government minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that struggling families can claim Universal Credit and that many parents do not like being labelled as being on ‘free school meals’ instead preferring to pay a modest sum of money to a holiday club to provide food.
Siddiq told PoliticsHome: “A lot of the Tories, Don Valley, Bishop Aukland and places like that they’re all a little bit worried. It’s the kind of thing that can be used against them in their patches.
“Even if they don’t walk through the lobbies with us tonight that they put a lot of pressure on the prime minister. And that’s how it happened last time.
“I know it’s not easy to break the whip but some votes are a matter of conscience and this is one of them.
“We’re going to be facing the toughest winter of a generation, there’s coronavirus, the end of the furlough scheme – children are in for a tough ride. Why can’t we just do one last thing for parents so they don’t have to worry?”
She said some Tories she had spoken to directly in Parliament on Tuesday were sympathetic to the issue but they did not want to break the whip.
The vouchers were introduced for the poorest families in August after significant pressure from Rashford. The England striker said today that the situation for children is now worse than in the summer.
The vote at 7pm is on a Labour motion calling on the government to continue directly funding free school meals over the holidays until Easter 2021. They say it would prevent a million children going hungry.
Rashford tweeted that he was paying close attention to the Commons today and to those who are willing to “turn a blind eye” to the needs of our most vulnerable children.
He wrote: “2.2M of them who currently qualify for Free School Meals. 42% newly registered. Not to mention the 1.5M children who currently don’t qualify.”
He then got into an disagreement with MP Steve Baker who said Rashford was the one with all the power to make the change on free school meals because he has more Twitter followers that he does, despite Baker being a politician for the ruling Conservative party.
Baker said instead Universal Credit could be boosted to try and help families..
Morris, who was elected in 2010 said that she would vote against her own party tonight because of the economic fall out for people in her constituency.
She tweeted: “The ongoing pandemic has had a heavy impact on many across Teignbridge, bringing with it significant economic difficulties for many. This is why I am supporting the motion calling for the continuation of direct funding for FSM over school holidays until Easter 2021.
“This time-limited measure is a perfectly sensible response as we deal with the economic consequences of Covid-19. Longer-term I believe it is right that those eligible should be supported through the Holidays & Activities Food Programme and the Universal Credit system.”
Trump comment on ‘blowing up’ Nile Dam angers Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s prime minister has said his country “will not cave in to aggressions of any kind” after President Donald Trump suggested Egypt could destroy a controversial Nile dam.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is at the centre of a long-running dispute involving Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.
Mr Trump said Egypt would not be able to live with the dam and might “blow up” the construction.
Ethiopia sees the US as siding with Egypt in the dispute.
The US announced in September that it would cut some aid to Ethiopia after it began filling the reservoir behind the dam in July.
Why is the dam disputed?
Egypt relies for the bulk of its water needs on the Nile and is concerned supplies could be cut off and its economy undermined as Ethiopia takes control of the flow of Africa’s longest river.
Once complete, the $4bn (£3bn) structure on the Blue Nile in western Ethiopia will be Africa’s largest hydro-electric project.
The speed with which Ethiopia fills up the dam will govern how severely Egypt is affected – the slower the better as far as Cairo is concerned. That process is expected to take several years.
Sudan, further upstream than Egypt, is also concerned about water shortages.
Ethiopia, which announced the start of construction in 2011, says it needs the dam for its economic development.
Negotiations between the three countries were being chaired by the US, but are now overseen by the African Union.
What did the Ethiopian PM say?
PM Abiy Ahmed did not address Mr Trump’s remarks directly, but there appears to be little doubt what prompted his robust comments.
Ethiopians would finish the dam, he vowed.
“Ethiopia will not cave in to aggression of any kind,” he said. “Ethiopians have never kneeled to obey their enemies, but to respect their friends. We won’t do it today and in the future.”
Threats of any kind over the issue were “misguided, unproductive and clear violations of international law”.
Why did Trump get involved?
The president was on the phone to Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu in front of reporters at the White House on Friday.
The occasion was Israel and Sudan’s decision to agree diplomatic relations in a move choreographed by the US.
The subject of the dam came up and Mr Trump and Mr Hamdok expressed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
But Mr Trump also said “it’s a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way”.
He continued: “And I said it and I say it loud and clear – they’ll blow up that dam. And they have to do something.”
What is the state of the negotiations?
Mr Abiy maintains that the negotiations have made more progress since the African Union began mediation.
But there are fears that Ethiopia’s decision to start filling the reservoir could overshadow hopes of resolving key areas, such what happens during a drought and how to resolve future disputes.
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