Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

UK broke law over co-operation with the US on trial of 'ISIS assassination squad'

Mother of El Shafee Elsheikh wins court battle for him to avoid death penalty in US

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured in northern Syria in 2018 and had their UK citizenship revoked. AP
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were captured in northern Syria in 2018 and had their UK citizenship revoked. AP

Britain acted unlawfully by sharing evidence with the US about two members of an alleged ISIS assassination squad in Syria, the UK’s highest court ruled on Wednesday.

That evidence could have caused the pair to face the death penalty in the US, the court said.

It was a win the mother of one of four alleged extremists who were nicknamed the Beatles because of their British accents.

It means the two members being held in the US are now more likely to stand trial in the UK over claims that they beheaded 27 hostages.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey were captured in January 2018, sparking a dispute over where they should be tried for crimes that the court called the “worst of the worst”.

The pair, who have been stripped of their British citizenship, were held in Syria, then transferred to US custody after Turkey launched its assault on Kurdish-held territory.

Britain’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the former home secretary, Sajid Javid, broke laws on data protection by providing information that could have led to their death sentences.

Mr Javid's decision was based on “political expediency”, the ruling found.

The victims of the group included US citizens James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig, and Britons David Haines and Alan Henning.

“These killings came to global attention by all, except one, being filmed and posted on the internet,” said Lord Kerr, one of the seven judges.

“It is difficult to imagine more horrific murders than those which Mr Elsheikh and Mr Kotey are alleged to have carried out.”

The two are said to have worked with another Briton, Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a US air strike, and Aine Davis, who is in a Turkish jail.

The current whereabouts of Mr Elsheikh and Mr Kotey have not been disclosed and it was not immediately clear how Washington would respond to the ruling.

Before they were moved to a “secure location” controlled by the US, Mr Elsheikh told British broadcasters he wanted to stand trial in the UK.

“If the UK wants to put me on trial, then I will defend myself with what I can,” he said.

British prosecutors had said there was insufficient evidence to put the pair before a UK court and sought to have them put on trial in the US.

Mr Javid passed 600 pages of police-compiled witness statements to the US, which sparked a political row after he was accused of reneging on the UK’s commitment to oppose the death penalty anywhere in the world.

The UK government considers the death penalty “immoral and unacceptable”, the ruling said.

Lawyers for Mr Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli, argued that her son should stand trial in the UK as prosecutors now had evidence to put both men before a British court.

British prosecutors were expected to complete a review by next month that would decide whether the UK could hold the trial, Ms Elgizouli's lawyers said.

“She has always expressed her belief that her son, if accused, should face justice, and that any trial should take place in the UK,” they said.

British officials shifted the country’s stand over three months in 2018.

Their ambassador in Washington had warned that US President Donald Trump could “hold a grudge” if the UK refused to let its intelligence be used for death penalty cases, a previous hearing was told.

"We are clearly very disappointed with today's judgment and are carefully considering next steps," the British Home Office said.

Updated: March 26, 2020 12:02 AM

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