The mother of a victim of a British terrorist who was part of an Islamic State cell nicknamed ‘the Beatles’ called on one of its members today to reveal where the remains of her son are located after he pleaded guilty.
Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, 40, who was the first of four American hostages to be killed, came face-to-face in a US federal court yesterday with Alexanda Amon Kotey as he admitted multiple charges.
She said she hoped Kotey’s cooperation with the US authorities would extend to telling the family members of the cell’s doomed captives where their loved ones’ remains are, and whether anyone else was involved in the plot.
Kotey, 37, who grew up in West London but left for Syria in 2012, conspired to abduct and behead Western hostages for ISIS and was one of the gang nicknamed ‘the Beatles’ by their captives due to their British accents.
The cell of militants – said to be made up of ringleader Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, Aine Davis, El Shafee Elsheikh and Kotey – was allegedly responsible for the brutal killings of a Western and Japanese captives.
Kotey pleaded guilty to eight counts including conspiring to murder four American hostages – journalists Mr Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. The charges Kotey admitted were:
- Four counts of hostage taking resulting in death;
- Conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death;
- Conspiracy to murder US citizens outside of the US;
- 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.
Diane Foley (centre), the mother of slain ISIS hostage James Foley, stands alongside the parents of slain ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller, Carl Mueller (third from right) and Marsha Mueller (second from right) and family members of two other slain ISIS hostages, following the guilty pleas by Alexanda Kotey, outside the the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, yesterday
Alexanda Kotey (left), 37, pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder four US hostages, including James Foley (right), 40
Ms Foley was among the family members of the American victims who were in court in Alexandria, Virginia, to hear details of the charges and watch Kotey plead guilty. He now faces spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Asked if there was any way in which he could make amends, Ms Foley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘I don’t know, that’s up to him. I didn’t get any indication that he was interested in that.
‘But I would hope that in time that he might, just because of the extent of the evil that he has committed. I don’t know any soul that could live with that, but that’s just my opinion.
‘All of us would like to know where the remains of our children are. Also I would very much like to know if other people are still living who also were involved.
Diane Foley (right), the mother of slain American hostage James Foley, speaks alongside the parents of other murdererd hostages following the guilty pleas by Alexanda Kotey outside the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, yesterday
‘These are two people (Kotey and Elsheikh) who were quite involved with the hostage taking and torture of our son Jim and Peter (Kassig), Kayla (Mueller) and Steven (Sotloff).
Who are the ISIS Beatles?
Mohammed Emwazi – Jihadi John
Emwazi was one of the most prominent members of the so-called ISIS Beatles and was regularly seen carrying out executions in their horrific beheading videos.
He took part in the barbaric beheadings of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and US humanitarian worker Peter Kassig.
The terrorist, who was born in Kuwait and grew up in Queen’s Park, West London, was charged with 27 counts of murder and five counts of hostage taking in November 2014.
He was killed in a Hellfire missile drone strike in Syria in 2015.
Aine Lesley Davis – Paul
Davis was born Aine Leslie Junior Davis in 1984 to Fay Rodriquez, and is believed to have spent the early years of his childhood in Hammersmith where his mother lived.
He was one of 13 children his father had by four different women.
The former tube driver, who has drug-dealing and firearms convictions to his name, converted to Islam while in prison.
In 2014 his wife, Amal el-Wahabi, was convicted of funding terrorism after she persuaded a friend to try and smuggle £16,000 in cash in her underwear to him.
Davis was captured by Turkish security officials in 2015 and was later found guilty of being a senior member of a terrorist organization and was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
Alexanda Kotey – Ringo
Kotey, 36, was born to a Ghanaian father and a Greek Cypriot mother and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush, London.
Before his radicalization, he is thought to have worked as a drug dealer before converting to Islam in his early 20s.
In 2012, he left for Syria where the US claims he was involved in beheadings and known for administering ‘exceptionally cruel torture methods’, including electronic shocks.
He is also accused of acting as an ISIS recruiter who convinced a number of other British extremists to join the terror group.
Kotey was captured in Syria while trying to escape to Turkey in 2018 and was held in a US military center in Iraq.
The British Government wanted him tried in the US, where officials believe there is a more realistic chance of prosecution than in the UK. He was extradited last year and was charged with a number of terror offences.
Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to multiple charges including conspiring to murder four US hostages.
El Shafee Elsheikh – George
Born in Sudan, Elsheikh, 32, grew up in West London and is the final member of the four British terrorists who fled to join ISIS.
He has been linked to the killings of a number of hostages after heading to Syria to join the extremist group.
He was captured along with Kotey when they tried to flee to Turkey in 2018 and has since been transported to the US where he now faces charges relating to terrorism and beheading Western hostages.
‘However I think there may well be others who might still be living. I hope he might have some answers for the poor Mueller family to find out about their daughter Kayla, and for John Cantlie, I would just hope part of this bargain is that Kotey would be forthcoming in talking to our government, your government and any of us who want to speak to him.’
Talking about what it was like to be in court, Ms Foley added: ‘It was rather chilling to be there, because it was the first time we’ve ever seen him in person.
‘Just the fact that he was pleading guilty to all eight counts was quite amazing really, and it really brings me to want to thank your Scotland Yard and our FBI and our Department of Justice for putting together such a strong case that he would feel it necessary to plead guilty today.
‘So we are grateful for the work of all the good people, and of course the Syrian Democratic Forces who actually arrested Kotey and Elsheikh.
‘So we’re very grateful for the work of all the good people on both sides of the Atlantic in this regard.’
Asked if Kotey looked at her in court, Ms Foley said: ‘Briefly, briefly. He knew we were present. We were introduced and he knew we were there.
‘It was pretty matter of fact from his point of view. He had obviously made up his mind this was his best chance of getting home to the United Kingdom at some point.
‘He just felt it was what he needed to do. So I’m glad that he did in fact plead guilty, and it is my hope that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars without ever having parole. I almost think, to be honest, a quick martyrdom is too easy a way out of what he has committed. I was always against the death penalty.
‘But I do feel accountability is essential to anyone who kidnaps or unjustly detains our citizens, otherwise our countries can never hope to deter this horror of hostage taking. This step in accountability was essential.’
And asked about the effect on her of an ISIS affiliate becoming resurgent in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Ms Foley said: ‘Very sobering, so sobering, to think that the horror of this terrorism is continuing. It certainly hasn’t stopped, and I fear there is a potential for much more hostage taking.
‘They love to use the horror of that to frighten us, manipulate other governments and raise funds for their evil works. So I’m very sobered by that, very sad.’
The slayings by ‘The Beatles’ – who were responsibile the killings of Britons Alan Henning and David Haines – sparked outrage and revulsion around the world after being broadcast in graphic detail.
Yesterday, Kotey attended a two-hour change of plea hearing in Alexandria and pleaded guilty to eight charges.
They were four counts of hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to commit 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 and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation resulting in death.
Kotey has agreed to fully co-operate with authorities as part of his plea agreement, the court was told.
Kotey addressed the court to outline his involvement in the atrocities. He was repeatedly interrupted by District Judge TS Ellis who told him his statement was more suitable for the sentencing hearing.
In a prepared summary, he said he left the UK for Syria in August 2012 alongside Emwazi.
He said he left in order to ‘engage in the military fight against the Syrian army forces of president Bashar Assad’.
Kotey said when he departed the UK he held ‘the belief and understanding that the Islamic concept of armed jihad was a valid and legitimate cause and means by which a Muslim defends his fellow Muslim against injustice’.
He admitted his role in capturing hostages and said when his involvement in that came to an end, he worked in ISIS’s recruitment division, as a sniper and in the terror group’s ‘English media department’.
Kotey said while working for ISIS he came into contact with Mr Henning, Mr Haines and Mr Cantlie, a British war correspondent who disappeared in 2012 and who remains missing.
He told the court: ‘Upon the orders of the Islamic State senior leadership, I, along with others, opened up channels of negotiation with the authorities, families and representatives of those captured and held by the Islamic State.
‘This involved me visiting the detention facilities where the foreign captives were being held and interacting with them in every capacity that would further the prospects of our negotiation demands being met.’
Kotey (left) and El Shafee Elsheikh (right) speak during an interview at a security centre in Kobani, Syria, in March 2018
Kotey said his job would be to ‘extract’ contact details for loved ones of those taken hostage.
How the ISIS Beatles evaded justice
June 11, 2018: Then Home Secretary Savid Javid authorised the sharing of 600 witness statements gathered by the Metropolitan Police under a ‘mutual legal assistance’ agreement in a letter to then US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr Javid wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, indicating that ‘significant attempts’ had been made to obtain assurances, but that the time had arrived to accede to the request for information without seeking any assurance. He acknowledged that there was a serious risk that Elsheikh and Kotey would, if prosecuted and convicted, face execution as a direct result of UK assistance.
June 20: Mr Johnson replied on: ‘On a balanced assessment of the key risks… I agree that as this is a unique and unprecedented case, it is in the UK’s national security interests to accede to an MLA request for a criminal prosecution without death penalty assurances for Kotey and Elsheikh’.
July 26: Elsheikh’s mother Maha Elgizouli gets a High Court injunction to stop any further material from being handed over.
November: Ms Elgizouli urges the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review if there really is insufficient evidence for him to be charged and tried in the UK. By now the material handed over by the UK is returned to it by the US.
January 2019: The High Court rejects a challenge by Ms Elgizouli over the UK government’s decision to share evidence with American authorities.
March 2020: The mother’s appeal sees the decision overturned again and the Supreme Court blasts the UK Government’s ‘unlawful’ decision to bow to US pressure to share evidence on the so-called ISIS Beatles without receiving assurances the suspects would be spared the death penalty.
August 19: The US says they will no longer seek the death penalty for the pair, sparking hope justice will be served.
August 26: The Supreme Court rules they can now be sent to the US.
October 7: Elsheikh and Kotey are transported to the US.
September 2021: Kotey pleads guilty to eight charges including conspiracy to murder four US hostages
January 2022: Elsheikh is scheduled to stand trial
March 4: Korey is due to be sentenced
The terrorists would then demand the release of Islamic prisoners held by the West or large sums of money in return for the hostages’ freedom.
Kotey said: ‘I had no doubt that any failure of those foreign governments to comply with our demands would ultimately result in the indefinite detention of those foreign captives or their executions. ‘
He said he was not physically present at any of the killings of the Western captives.
Kotey was captured alongside Elsheikh in Syria in 2018 by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces while trying to escape to Turkey.
Details of Kotey’s plea agreement were read out in court, revealing the Briton has agreed to fully co-operate with the US government.
He will provide ‘full, complete and truthful’ evidence to not only the US but all foreign governments.
Kotey will provide all relevant documents, meet with victims’ families if they wish to do so and voluntarily submit to a lie detector test.
However, the terrorist will not be compelled to give evidence in court against co-defendant Elsheikh, the hearing was told.
As part of the plea agreement, Kotey could be transferred to the UK after spending 15 years behind bars in the US in order to face justice in the country of his birth.
The court was told Kotey would plead guilty in the UK and would likely be handed a life sentence for the deaths of hostages including Mr Henning and Mr Haines.
However, if he is not given a life term, Kotey will complete his life sentence handed down in the US, either in America or in the UK.
Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick, of the United States Attorney’s Office read out the evidence against Kotey, outlining his role in the atrocities, including subjecting the hostages to brutal treatment.
They were terrorised with mock executions, shocks with tasers, physical restraints and other brutal acts.
Speaking outside court yesterday, Raj Parekh, Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said: ‘Kotey has been afforded due process and in the face of overwhelming evidence, he made the independent decision to plead guilty to his crimes. He has agreed to spend the rest of his life in prison.’
Kotey and Elsheikh were brought to the US last year to face charges on the condition they would not be given a death sentence.
Last year, Mike Haines, the brother of Mr Haines, told the Independent he was ‘really glad’ they would not face the death penalty.
He said last October: ‘The death penalty or execution in some other country would just be such a recruitment coup for Isis and their like. We know their system of recruitment uses them as martyrs and promotes them as heroes.’
While Kotey has now pleaded guilty, there was no update on Elsheikh, who is scheduled to stand trial in January.
Speaking outside court in Alexandria yesterday, Raj Parekh, Acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Kotey had ‘agreed to spend the rest of his life in prison’ and that ‘he made the independent decision to plead guilty to his crimes’
The US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, is pictured yesterday ahead of the plea hearing involving Kotey
Emwazi was killed by a US drone strike in 2015 while Davis is serving a sentence in a Turkish jail.
Former aircraft engineer and humanitarian Mr Haines, 44, from Perth in Scotland, was beheaded in Syria in 2014 after being held prisoner for 18 months.
Cab driver-turned-aid worker Mr Henning, 47, from Lancashire, was also beheaded in 2014 after being captured by extremists in Syria.
Kotey and Elsheikh had taken part in and been arrested during a demonstration outside the US embassy in London in 2011 in support of the 9/11 attacks.
They travelled to Syria the following year. Kotey will be sentenced on March 4 next year.
The Western hostages captured, tortured and killed by the beheading gang
American journalist who kept up fellow prisoners’ morale
James Foley, from Illinois, USA, was a journalist who first went missing in November 2012
James Foley, from Illinois, in the US, was a journalist who first went missing in November 2012.
On his way to an internet cafe, while reporting for the GlobalPost, he had been taken hostage at gunpoint by militants from the group Jabhat al Nusra in Taftanaz, northern Syria.
Jabhat al Nusra subsequently joined forces with ISIS – which did not exist in anything like its current form when Mr Foley was taken.
Mr Foley joined other prisoners, who were European and British, in the ISIS prison and despite attempts to rescue him, he was eventually murdered by his captors.
His fellow prisoners spoke kindly of Foley, who called people ‘Bro’ and never argued over shortages of food, despite meagre rations equating to cup of food-a-day, often sharing his portion and his blanket.
Mr Foley often made efforts to maintain prisoners’ morale, persuading them to play games and to give talks on their favourite subjects.
He even organised a ‘Secret Santa’ during Christmas 2013, encouraging hostages to make gifts out of whatever they could find.
ISIS posted his execution video, titled ‘A Message to America’ to social media as proof of his death.
In scripted remarks before his killing, kneeling in an orange jump suit, he said: ‘I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again.
‘But that ship has sailed. I guess all in all I wish I wasn’t American.’
‘The guy lit up a room’: US freelance journalist who was an avid rugby player
Steven Sotloff, 31, from Miami, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, vanished in Syria in 2013
US journalist Steven Sotloff, 31, vanished in Syria in August 2013.
Mr Sotloff was not seen again until he appeared in a video released online by ISIS on August 2014, that showed James Foley’s beheading.
In a second clip, published weeks later, entitled ‘A Second Message to America,’ Mr Sotloff appeared in a orange jumpsuit before he is beheaded by an Islamic State fighter.
The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Mr Sotloff grew up Miami, before attending the Kimball Union Academy boarding school in New Hampshire before studying at the University of Central Florida.
While at Kimball, Mr Sotloff was an avid rugby player and on moving to UFC began working for the student newspaper there, the Central Florida Future.
He left this paper in 2005 and began to pursue his dreams of journalism full time.
‘The guy lit up a room. He was always such a loyal, caring and good friend to us,’ former roommate Josh Polsky told the New York Times.
‘If you needed to rely on anybody for anything he would drop everything on a dime for you or for anyone else.’
Sotloff travelled to the Middle East as a freelance journalist and wrote reports from Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Turkey and Syria.
He often had pieces in Time and Foreign Policy magazines.
‘A million people could have told him what he was doing was foolish, as it seemed to us outsiders looking in, but to him it was what he loved to do and you weren’t going to stop him,’ his friend, Emerson Lotzia, said.
‘Steve said it was scary over there. It was dangerous. It wasn’t safe to be over there. He knew it. He kept going back.’
British taxi driver who volunteered as an aid worker
Alan Henning, a father-of-two, was kidnapped on Boxing Day 2013 as he delivered aid to Syrian refugees
Alan Henning, a father-of-two, was kidnapped on Boxing Day 2013 as he delivered aid to Syrian refugees.
The taxi-driver, from Manchester, was kept hostage until he was beheaded by Jihadi John on video in October 2014.
Before he was killed, Mr Henning was forced to tell the camera that he was being murdered in retaliation for parliament’s decision to attack ISIS.
Originally from Salford, he had seen the suffering first hand during a life-changing visit to a refugee camp, which inspired him to help the innocents whose lives were being wrecked by the conflict.
After volunteering with a Muslim charity, the 47-year-old agreed to drive 3,000 miles in a convoy of old ambulances to help the aid effort and take much-needed medical supplies to hospitals in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Known as ‘Gadget’ to friends and family for his fondness for technology, Mr Henning had been washing cars in the UK to raise money for donations before setting off on his fourth visit to the country.
He travelled with eight others from charity Al-Fathiha Global, who intended to deliver vital equipment, including NHS ambulances packed with baby milk, nappies, food and defibrillators, but was kidnapped by ISIS extremists on Boxing Day, shortly after making the 4,000-mile journey to the town of Al-Dana.
A fan of Phil Collins, which he enjoyed playing as he drove, Mr Henning was incredibly popular and during one trip insisted on sleeping inside his ambulance instead of a hotel to save money so it could be donated to the refugees instead.
Kasim Jameel, leader of the convoy on which Mr Henning was travelling when he was kidnapped, described his friend as a ‘big softie.’
Dr Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar, who was also in the convoy, said Mr Henning was ‘remarkable.’
‘He’s such a compassionate and selfless human being,’ she said. ‘It just simply wasn’t enough for Alan to sit back and just donate or raise awareness.
He had to get up and do something about what he’d seen Every time the convoys went he had a yearning to go. That really motivated him, to see, practically, first-hand the difference he was making.’
Scottish father-of-two who spent his career as an aid worker
David Haines, who was beheaded a week after Steven Sotloff, was the first British victim of Jihadi John
David Haines, who was beheaded a week after Steven Sotloff, was the first British victim of Jihadi John.
The father-of-two, from Holderness, East Yorkshire, was taken hostage while working for relief agency ACTED in Syria in March this year.
He was captured near the Atmeh refugee camp, just inside the Syrian border with Turkey.
Mr Haines spent his career as an aid worker helping to protect innocent civilians in developing nations.
For more than two decades, he travelled with aid agencies through Syria, Libya, the former Yugoslavia and South Sudan.
He dedicated his life to promoting peace in places of violent conflict and oversaw projects to save civilians from land mines.
The 44-year-old was described as a hero by his family, who were inspired by him to travel the world on further aid missions.
He had a teenage daughter in Scotland from a previous marriage with his first wife, and a four-year-old daughter, Athea, in Croatia from his second wife.
Mr Haines was brought up in Perth, Scotland, and studied at Perth Academy before joining the military aged 17.
According to his online CV he spent 11 years in the military, holding ‘various positions covering security and threat assessments in a number of different countries’ between 1988 and 1999.
It did not specify with which armed forces he served, although his ISIS execution video claimed he had been in the Royal Air Force.
His brother Mike later confirmed this, saying he was an engineer.
26-year-old who was helping refugees while living in Beirut
Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old from Indiana, was beheaded by ISIS executioner Jihadi John in November 2014
Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old from Indiana, started a non-profit organisation called Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA).
The Iraq war veteran, who was living in Beirut to provide relief for refugees of the Syrian crisis, was beheaded by ISIS executioner Jihadi John, in November 2014.
Writing on his profile page on fundraising website FundRazr, Mr Kassig said he had previously worked as a medic in a hospital in Tripoli, Lebanon.
He said: ‘When I first started this cause to help those in need, I was on my own but I saw first-hand the shortages in available resources and supplies for people who were suffering in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey as a result of the violence.
‘The amount of feedback and support from people all around the world motivated me to get organised and develop a platform through which people could send donations to support the continuation of my work.’
Kassig joined the U.S. Army Rangers in 2006 and was deployed to Iraq in 2007.
He was honourably discharged for medical reasons after a brief tour and returned to the United States to study political science.
However, in 2010, he decided to take time off from his studies and began his certification as an emergency medical technician.
He then decided to travel to Beirut to try and help those in need as a result of the Syria crisis.
It was after a short time in the country that he started up his own aid group, SERA.
Few details are publicly known about how Kassig was taken captive.
The 26-year-old humanitarian who said there was always light in darkness
Kayla Mueller, 26, was kept as a sex slave by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi
American Kayla Mueller was a humanitarian aid worker who was kidnapped and taken hostage in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.
She was kept as a sex slave by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who raped her repeatedly during her captivity.
The fanatics reportedly demanded 5 million euros from Mueller’s family, telling them that that they would send a picture of her body if they were not given money.
Kotey has admitted having contact with her, adding: ‘I took an email from her myself. She was in a room by herself that no one would go in.’
Her death was reported in February 2015 and her name was used as the codeword for the daring US raid that killed her once captor.
Kayla’s body has never been found and her parents live in hope her remains will be recovered.
Mother Martha said: I want people to see the light in Kayla in such utter darkness, how she just said there is always light.
“And I also want people to see that she even told people that as far as where she was, maybe she was supposed to be there, this is where she was supposed to be all along. She always wanted to help.’