Two British men charged with helping the Islamic State group carry out executions and ransom negotiations for Western hostages pleaded not guilty on Friday in a federal court.
El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are identified by authorities as two of four men dubbed “the Beatles” by hostages on account of their British accents.
They were indicted this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges including hostage-taking resulting in death and providing material support to terrorists.
The indictment charges the men in connection with the deaths of four American hostages — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — as well as European and Japanese nationals who were also held captive.
At a brief hearing on Friday in the court just outside Washington, D.C., the two men pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial.
No trial date was set after both men waived their right to a speedy trial because of the case’s complexity.
A hearing was set for Jan. 15 to set a trial date.
The men appeared for both hearings via video from the Alexandria jail, handcuffed and wearing green jail jumpsuits.
The men were transferred from American military custody to stand trial in civilian court after the United Kingdom agreed to share evidence it had on the men.
The information was shared only after U.S. Attorney General William Barr promised that the men wouldn’t face the death penalty.
Five of the eight counts each man faces carry a mandatory minimum life prison sentence if convicted.
The charges capped a years-long effort by U.S. authorities to bring to justice suspected members of the group known for beheadings and barbaric treatment of aid workers, journalists and other hostages in Syria.
Elsheikh and Kotey have been held since October 2019 in American military custody. They were captured in Syria one year before that by the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces.
Prosecutor Dennis Fitzpatrick said some of the evidence in the case is classified, which will require some pretrial hearings to be closed to the public to sort out how that evidence will be handled.
“This involves a long investigation involving multiple countries,” Fitzpatrick said when asked about the volume of evidence that must be weighed.
The indictment characterizes Kotey and Elsheikh, both of whom prosecutors say were radicalized in London and left for Syria in 2012, as “leading participants in a brutal hostage-taking scheme” that targeted victims with mock executions, shocks with tasers, physical restraints and other brutal acts.
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