WASHINGTON | Two British militants believed to be part of an Islamic State group that beheaded hostages and were known as “The Beatles” have been moved out of a detention center in Syria and are in American custody, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
President Donald Trump said earlier Wednesday that the U.S. moved some of the Islamic State prisoners amid fears some could escape custody as Turkey invades northeast Syria.
The two men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, along with other British jihadis, allegedly made up the IS cell nicknamed “The Beatles” by surviving captives because of their English accents. In 2014 and 2015, the militants 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 videos released to the world.
U.S. officials said the two were taken out of Syria by U.S. military and law enforcement personnel to ensure they did not escape if security broke down as a result of the Turkish incursion. So far they are the only two IS militants removed from Syria by the U.S., but officials said a number of others also could be moved if needed. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military movements, would not say how many could be relocated or where the two British men were taken.
Turkey is attacking the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces, a Kurdish force that battled the Islamic State group alongside American troops and now is responsible for guarding thousands of detained militants.