The United Kingdom has suspended cooperation with the United States over two Islamic State terror suspects, the government announced Friday, following concerns that they could face the death penalty.
Britain said Monday it was sharing intelligence to help the U.S. bring to trial two fighters captured in Syria, who were part of a group of British jihadists nicknamed the “Beatles.”
But Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the interior minister, faced intense criticism after agreeing to share intelligence without seeking assurances the men would not face execution if they were extradited.
The Home Office said it had agreed to a “short-term pause” of the mutual legal assistance process with the U.S. over Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee ElSheikh after a request from lawyers acting for one of the men.
“We received a request from the legal representative of the family of one of the suspects to pause the MLA response,” a spokesperson said.
“We have agreed to a short-term pause. The government remains committed to bringing these people to justice and we are confident we have acted in full accordance of the law and within the government’s longstanding MLA policy.”
On Monday, Security Minister Ben Wallace told MPs that a U.K. trial was unlikely for the pair, who were seized earlier this year by U.S.-backed Syrian forces.
He also said the pair were not U.K. citizens, without giving further details. News reports had said that the government had unusually stripped them of their nationality.
It’s unclear whether the two would be charged in federal courts or transferred to the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Kotey and Sheikh were part of a four-member kidnapping gang within Islamic State dubbed “The Beatles” by their captives due to their heavy British accents.
They are accused of taking part in notorious ISIS executions of foreign captives – including U.S. and U.K. journalists and aid workers James Foley, Stephen Sotloff, Peter Kassig, Alan Henning and David Haines.
The cell is also believed to have included Mohammed Emwazi – known as “Jihadi John” – who was killed in an air strike in 2015, and Aine Davis, who has been jailed in Turkey.
They were notorious for videotaping beheadings and are believed to have killed U.S. journalist James Foley and many Western aid workers.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces caught Kotey in January as he tried to flee Syria for Turkey, while a U.S. defence official said in February that Sheikh had also been captured by Syrian rebel forces.
The SDF and U.S. have urged countries to take back their citizens, citing the challenges of detaining hundreds of foreign fighters and the financial resources needed to host their wives and children.
With reporting from AFP