ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A federal judge in Virginia has tentatively scheduled a January 2022 trial for two Britain militants charged with being part of an Islamic State group that tortured and beheaded American and European hostages in Syria.
A jury trial for El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey is set to start on Jan. 18, 2022. U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III scheduled that “target” date during a hearing on Friday, saying it “seems more than reasonable to me.”
The two men, along with other British jihadis, allegedly made up the IS cell nicknamed “The Beatles” by surviving captives because of their English accents.
Kurdish forces captured them in January 2018 in eastern Syria amid the collapse of IS, as they tried to escape into Turkey. Their detention set off a debate in the U.S. and Europe over how to prosecute them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick said prosecutors expect to need three weeks to present their case against the men, including testimony from witnesses from seven different countries. Fitzpatrick said the government already has provided defense attorneys with more than 5,900 pages of documents and 27 disks or hard drives of other electronic material from the merged British and U.S. investigation.
“The government wants to bring this case to trial as soon as possible,” Fitzpatrick said.
“And the law requires it,” Ellis added.
Fitzpatrick said he believes Friday was the first day that defense attorneys had met their jailed clients in person due to medical concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In my experience, your Honor, that’s a very unusual circumstance that we’ve been subject to in this case,” he added.
In 2014 and 2015, the cell held more than 20 Western hostages in Syria and tortured many of them. It beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers.
Among the journalists they killed was American James Foley, who was first, followed by fellow Americans Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and Japanese journalists Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto. The beheadings, often carried out on camera, horrified the world soon after IS took over much of Iraq and Syria in 2014.