LONDON — A furor has erupted over leaked documents showing that British officials are not requiring their U.S.
counterparts to provide assurances that two alleged British jihadis loyal to the Islamic State group will not be executed if they are eventually put on trial in the United States.
The Daily Telegraph said Monday it had seen a letter from Home Secretary Sajid Javid to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions concerning two individuals who have been in custody since their capture in eastern Syria in January.
The two men, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, were allegedly part of a notorious cell of British jihadis known for their barbaric treatment of hostages. They got the nickname “the Beatles” because of their British accents. The most prominent member of the group, known as “Jihadi John,” was killed in a 2015 drone strike.
In 2014 and 2015, the group held more than 20 Western hostages in Syria and tortured many of them. It beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers, boasting of the butchery in grisly videos.
The newspaper says Javid told Sessions that Britain would not seek “assurances” that the two would not be executed, which has caused controversy because Britain is a longstanding opponent of the death penalty. Britain typically does not send prisoners to other countries if they face possible execution.
Amnesty International UK spokesman Allan Hogarth said Britain should not abandon its opposition to the death penalty despite the appalling crimes that Kotey and Elsheikh are accused of.
“This is a deeply worrying development,” he said. “The Home Secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast iron assurances from the U.S. that it will not be used.”
The discussion between the two countries involves Britain providing information that might be used against the two in a future prosecution in the United States.
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said she is aware of the letter. The spokeswoman says Britain remains opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances but views it as a “priority” to make sure these two men face criminal prosecution.
The two suspects were interviewed by The Associated Press in Kobani, Syria, in March and said they could not get a fair trial. They were captured by the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces amid the collapse of IS.
By GREGORY KATZ and NISHAT AHMED , Associated Press