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British police conduct ‘remarkable’ investigation into ISIS ‘Beatles’ cell

#British #police #conduct #remarkable #investigation #ISIS #Beatles #cell

British police on Wednesday lifted the lid on a year-long investigation into the Islamic State’s (IS) notorious kidnapping and murder cell, dubbed the “Beatles” by its prisoners.

Counter-terrorist officers said the hostages’ memories helped “fix” three of the British kidnappers.

The IS cell members, who tried to keep their identities secret, held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and were known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their distinctive British accent.

Two of them – 38-year-old Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, 34 – were on trial in the United States for their part in the gruesome beheading and murder of several Americans.

Another, Mohamed Emwazi – dubbed “Jihadi John” – died in Syria in 2015.

A fourth suspected British member was remanded in Britain last week on terrorism charges after Turkey deported him after serving a prison sentence there.

Ahead of Elsheikh’s sentencing on Friday, UK police detailed how their nearly decade-long investigation unearthed key evidence used by US prosecutors to convict him in April.

“The construction of the case is described as putting very small pieces of a puzzle together,” Richard Smith, the head of the London Police Counter-Terrorism Unit, told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday.

“What we’ve pieced together here is a trail of breadcrumbs, fragments of breadcrumbs, alongside a vast body of other investigations that we could then … take to a court to assist prosecutors in the United States.”

– ‘snippets’ –

London’s Metropolitan Police first began investigating what would become known as the “Beatles” cell in November 2012, when a spate of kidnappings of Western journalists and aid workers began in northern Syria.

After the release of some hostages, as well as videos of other prisoners being beheaded by a hangman with a British accent, officers determined that some of the alleged perpetrators were British citizens.

From the reports of freed hostages, among other information and intelligence information, they initially identified the executioner as Emwazi.

Born in Kuwait but raised in the UK from the age of six, he was killed by a US drone strike in Syria in 2015.

As British police worked to identify others, Smith said a “snippet of conversation” between kidnappers and prisoners was the key breakthrough.

Kotey and Elsheikh had revealed they were once arrested in central London at a far-right English Defense League (EDL) protest, which was being attended by a counter-demonstration by an Islamic group.

Officers were able to sift through records of arrests at such events and uncovered an incident in September 2011 in which the couple was held for a stabbing.

Police then uncovered video footage of the duo from that day, data from their confiscated cellphones showing links to Emwazi, and other evidence.

– Graphic phone pictures –

“[This]one piece of information came from the hostages that we spoke to that at first glance was fairly unremarkable to the hostage, but turned out to be very significant to us,” Smith said.

Officers also used a 2014 firearms conviction of Elsheikh’s brother to find further evidence from his cell phone, which was confiscated in that case.

It included images of Elsheikh in Syria in riot gear with a gun and graphic images of severed heads, which the 34-year-old described as “Syrian victims.”

Meanwhile, officials uncovered a 2009 police interview with him on an unrelated case, which featured his voice, which experts concluded was the same as a kidnapper heard in IS hostage videos.

The “Beatles” cell is accused of kidnapping at least 27 journalists and aides from the US, UK, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.

Kotey and Elsheikh were captured by a Kurdish militia in Syria in January 2018 and handed over to US forces in Iraq before being sent to the US with British permission.

There they were charged with taking hostages, conspiring to murder US citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

Kotey pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

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