Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 November 2020

Relief for family of kidnapped journalist John Cantlie as US prepares for ISIS Beatles trial

Sister of photojournalist says court ruling is the first good news since his disappearance in 2012

British photojournalist John Cantlie was kidnapped in July 2012. Family photo/AFP
British photojournalist John Cantlie was kidnapped in July 2012. Family photo/AFP

The sister of a British photojournalist kidnapped in Syria has spoken of her relief that two members of an alleged ISIS assassination squad will finally face trial in the United States.

The UK High Court yesterday cleared the way for El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey to stand trial accused of killing western hostages kidnapped in Syria.

They are accused of being part of a brutal four-strong group dubbed The Beatles because of their British accents.

They are said to have kidnapped 27 people and beheaded three Americans and two Britons in Syria and Iraq. The deaths were filmed and published online. The two men, held in US military custody, deny the charges against them.

Their kidnap victims allegedly included John Cantlie, a photojournalist, who was taken in Syria in 2012 along with an American reporter, James Foley. Mr Foley was killed by his captors in 2014.

Mr Cantlie was last seen on an ISIS propaganda video four years ago and remains missing.

His sister, Jessica Pocock, told the BBC that the decision by a court to allow the UK to hand over evidence to US prosecutors was the first piece of good news she had received since he was abducted.

She said that the group of victims’ families were always determined to press for “nothing less than a fair trial”.

“We have only ever wanted these two to face justice,” she told the broadcaster. “We feel that we all have to stand accountable for our actions.

“I think at times we felt absolutely desperate as to whether the legal system was ever going to bring these two to justice wherever that might be.”

She said that her brother had told her of his determination to return to Aleppo after previously being kidnapped before he was able to complete his assignment. He was snatched after he went back to finish his story.

The court decision ended a long legal battle over where the two alleged members of the group should stand trial in the US, the UK or elsewhere.

They were captured in Syria in January 2018 and were among thousands of suspected ISIS fighters held in the north of the country.

British prosecutors originally said they were unlikely to secure convictions because of the mistreatment they suffered after their capture by Syrian Democratic Forces. They suggested a trial would have a greater chance of success in the United States.

The family of Mr Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was stripped in 2014, first went to court to argue that the UK would be abandoning a long-standing policy to help in cases that could end with the death penalty.

American officials revealed last month that they will not insist on the death penalty following any prosecution.

A further challenge ended on Tuesday when a court allowed UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to hand over the evidence in preparation for a trial.

Ms Patel wrote on Twitter: “Pleased to say that the further evidence to support the prosecution of Kotey & El Sheikh has now finally been transferred to the US. I sincerely hope that justice for the victims and their families will now be served.”

A third member of the cell, Mohammed Emwazi - known as "Jihadi John" - was killed in a US air strike in 2015. He had appeared in several hostage videos in which aid workers and US journalists were killed.

The fourth, Aine Davis, was jailed in Turkey.

Updated: September 23, 2020 03:12 PM

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