Two notorious Islamic State militants imprisoned in Syria have admitted to roles in ransom negotiations for Western hostages but denied U.S. claims of torture and murder.
One of the men apologized for his actions.
El Shafee Elsheikh, 30, and Alexanda Kotey, 35, are accused of membership in a murderous, four-man cell dubbed “The Beatles” because of their British accents. The duo recently spoke to CNN via a video link.
“I consider my role in this whole scenario, this whole episode as one of my mistakes,”
said Elsheikh, a native of Sudan. “I would like to apologize (to) everybody who was affected, directly or indirectly.”
Kotey, who is British, said he extracted “proof of life” information and email addresses from European hostages so ISIS could contact family members with ransom demands. Elsheikh said he was a liaison between the prisoners and the ISIS officials who handled negotiations.
“I was a fighter,” Kotey said.
Some of the hostages ultimately were released but others were executed. Some were killed on video by Mohammed Emwazi, an infamous cell member known as “Jihadi John.” Emwazi reportedly was killed in a 2015 drone strike.
The State Department says the group was responsible for holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
“Elsheikh was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer,” the State Department said in its terrorist designation.
Kotey also was responsible for recruiting several British nationals to join the terrorist organization, the department said.
“As a guard for the cell, Kotey likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding,” the designation says.
Kotey and Elsheikh, each held for more than a year, are among hundreds of ISIS fighters taken prisoner during a long procession of battlefield defeats. A U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian fighters announced in March that the last ISIS stronghold in Syria had been smashed, crushing the remains of a “caliphate” the group proclaimed five years earlier.
Many of those taken prisoner were sent to Iraq for quick trials that often resulted in hanging. Kotey and Elsheikh denied that their confession was aimed at persuading authorities to send them to England, which does not have the death penalty.
“If anything, I think that a confession will maybe hasten our extradition or rendition to the United States,” Elsheikh said: “I don’t think this is something that will prevent me going to the United States at all. I don’t see how that would be possible. I just want this period to be over. I know what needs to be done. The truth has to come out.”
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