Mother of IS Beatle launches High Court challenge against Priti Patel

Mother of ISIS ‘Beatle’ launches new High Court challenge over Priti Patel’s decision to share evidence with the US as court hears prosecutors will decide ‘imminently’ if he will face trial in UK

  • Alexanda Kotey, 36, and El-Shafee El-Sheikh, 32, are accused ‘ISIS Beatles’
  • El-Sheikh’s mother has launched legal challenge against the UK Home Office
  • Maha Elgizouli branded Priti Patel’s decision to share evidence with US ‘unlawful’
  • High Court is being asked to order that no material should be given to the US 

The mother of a suspected ISIS ‘Beatle’ has slammed Priti Patel’s ‘unlawful’ decision to share evidence with the US in a fresh High Court challenge.

Alexanda Kotey, 36, and El-Shafee El-Sheikh, 32, are accused of belonging to a cell of executioners in Syria – nicknamed The Beatles because of their British accents – responsible for killing a number of Western captives. 

El-Sheikh’s mother Maha Elgizouli is bringing a judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice in London over the Home Secretary’s decision to provide material to US authorities under a ‘mutual legal assistance (MLA)’ request. 

At a hearing in London today, Ms Elgizouli’s lawyers argued that Ms Patel’s decision was unlawful as it is incompatible with the Data Protection Act. They are asking the court to order that no material should be provided to the US. 

The Supreme Court lifted a court order stopping the UK from sharing vital evidence with Washington last month – a week after Attorney General William Barr notified Britain that the US will not seek the death penalty against El-Sheikh and Kotey.

The court had previously ruled that the UK could not provide evidence against the pair to the US so long as the death penalty remained a possibility. 

The decision to lift the order has now been appealed by El-Sheikh’s mother, who is arguing that Priti Patel’s decision-making was ‘irrational’ and ‘unlawful’. 

El-Shafee El-Sheikh (left), 32, and Alexanda Kotey (right), 36, were members of the ‘Beatles’ terror cell which was behind the beheading of two British aid workers and two US journalists

Maha Elgizouli (pictured with El Shafee) is bringing a fresh legal challenge over the Home Secretary’s decision to provide material to the US under a ‘mutual legal assistance’ request

In written submissions to the court, Richard Hermer QC said the international transfer of the data is ‘not strictly necessary’ in circumstances where the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is due to make a decision ‘imminently’ about whether the pair should be prosecuted in the UK.

He argued Ms Patel did not make sufficient inquiries as to whether a prosecution would be undertaken in the UK, and she ‘failed to address adequately or at all’ what the appropriate jurisdiction for a prosecution would be when reaching her decision.

The barrister added: ‘It is in any event irrational to decide to transfer data, and provide co-operation permitting the use of that data in US proceedings, in circumstances where there is a realistic prospect that the (DPP) may bring a prosecution… in this jurisdiction.’

Mr Hermer said the hearing is urgent as the US Government has indicated it will transfer the pair to Iraq for trial, where if found guilty they will be executed, if it does not receive all the evidence the UK has on the pair by October 15.

He said the DPP has indicated he will reach his decision on whether they should face trial in the UK in ‘three to four weeks’. 

Ms Elgizouli’s case is being contested by Home Secretary Priti Patel, and lawyers representing her say she acted ‘rationally and lawfully’ when reaching her decision

At the ‘supermax’ US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, the grounds are patrolled by attack dogs and the towers are manned with sharpshooters

The supermax jail in Colorado has housed the most notorious and violent criminals in the US

In his opening remarks to the court, Mr Hermer said Ms Elgizouli ‘unequivocally’ agrees with the contention by the Home Secretary’s lawyers that her son’s alleged crimes are ‘some of the most barbaric’ committed during the conflict in Syria.

He said she ‘entirely condemns these abhorrent acts’, which were previously described in a Supreme Court ruling as ‘the worst of the worst’. 

Ms Elgizouli’s case is being contested by the Home Secretary, and lawyers representing her say she acted ‘rationally and lawfully’ when reaching her decision. 

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has been clear in her determination to deliver justice for the victims and their families. It would be inappropriate to comment further whilst legal proceedings are ongoing.’ 

How the ISIS Beatles have evaded justice 

June 11, 2018: Savid Javid authorised the sharing of 600 witness statements gathered by the Metropolitan Police under a ‘mutual legal assistance’ agreement in a letter to then US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

June 11, 2018: Mr Javid wrote to Mr Johnson, indicating that ‘significant attempts’ had been made to obtain assurances, but that the time had arrived to accede to the request for information without seeking any assurance. 

He acknowledged that there was a serious risk that Elsheikh and Kotey would, if prosecuted and convicted, face execution as a direct result of UK assistance. 

June 20, 2018: Mr Johnson replied on: ‘On a balanced assessment of the key risks… I agree that as this is a unique and unprecedented case, it is in the UK’s national security interests to accede to an MLA request for a criminal prosecution without death penalty assurances for Kotey and Elsheikh’.

July 26, 2018:  Elsheikh’s mother Maha Elgizouli gets a High Court injunction to stop any further material from being handed over.

November 2018: Ms Elgizouli urges the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review if there really is insufficient evidence for him to be charged and tried in the UK.

By now the material handed over by the UK is returned to it by the US.

January, 2019: The High Court rejects a challenge by Ms Elgizouli over the UK government’s decision to share evidence with American authorities.

March, 2020: The mother’s appeal sees the decision overturned again and the Supreme Court blasts the UK Government’s ‘unlawful’ decision to bow to US pressure to share evidence on the so-called ISIS Beatles without receiving assurances the suspects would be spared the death penalty.

August 19, 2020: The US says they will no longer seek the death penalty for the pair, sparking hope justice will be served. 

August 26, 2020: The Supreme Court rules they can now be sent to the US

Elsheikh and Kotey were captured in January 2018, sparking an international row over whether they should be returned to the UK for trial or face justice in another jurisdiction.

They were transferred to the custody of the US military in Iraq in October 2019 and remain in American custody.

American officials revealed last month, in a letter to Ms Patel from US Attorney General William Barr, that they will not insist on the death penalty for the pair following any prosecution.

Ms Elgizouli previously brought a challenge to former Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to share evidence with US authorities without seeking assurances the men would not be executed if convicted in the US.

Her case was dismissed by the High Court in January 2019 but that decision was overturned in March this year by a panel of seven Supreme Court justices, who unanimously allowed her appeal – ruling the decision to share evidence with the US was unlawful under the Data Protection Act.

Giving the Supreme Court’s lead ruling in March, Lord Kerr said there was evidence which indicated the UK authorities were put under ‘political pressure’ at the time of Mr Javid’s decision.

The judge said the transfer of someone’s personal data to a ‘third country’ – such as the US – is ‘only lawful if it is based on what is called an adequacy decision or on there being appropriate safeguards or on special circumstances’.

He added: ‘The information in question was transferred without being based on sufficient safeguards and without the requisite assessment of whether special circumstances justifying the transfer existed.

‘The decision was based on political expediency, rather than strict necessity under the statutory criteria.

‘It was consequently unlawful under the (Data Protection Act).’

However the new court move means Kotey and El-Sheikh face a life sentence at the notorious ‘supermax’, formally known as the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado. 

The men have previously said they fear a life sentence at the ‘hell on earth’ prison that for some people would be a ‘fate worse than the death penalty’.

Kotey, of Ladbroke Grove, West London, told the Daily Mirror last year that he and El-Sheikh agreed that being convicted in the US would be a terrible scenario.

He said: ‘I would not want to spend time in a prison in the US. That would not be good. That would be the worst thing that could happen.’ 

At the supermax jail in Colorado, the grounds are patrolled by attack dogs and the towers are manned with sharpshooters.

It is home to 490 convicted terrorists, gang leaders and neo-Nazis. Many have been transferred from other prisons after killing inmates or prison staff.

They include Richard Reid, the attempted shoe bomber; Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker; and al-Qaeda terrorists behind the bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993 and the bombing of the US embassies in Africa.

The prison was built after the murder of two prison officers at a high security prison in Marion, Illinois.  The perimeter of the 35-acre site is guarded by 12ft high razor wire fences, laser-beams, pressure pads and attack dogs.

Inmates are kept in cells measuring 7ft by 12ft for 23 hours a day. The bed, desk and stool are immovable and cast from poured concrete.  

In June 2018, Mr Javid authorised the sharing of 600 witness statements gathered by the Metropolitan Police under a ‘mutual legal assistance’ agreement in a letter to then US attorney general Jeff Sessions. 

Other members of the ‘Beatles’ cell are said to include Mohammed Emwazi, the group’s ringleader, also known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a US air strike in 2015, while Aine Davis is in jail in Turkey for terror offences, while Aine Davis is in jail in Turkey for terror offences

Mr Javid faced intense criticism after the letter to Mr Sessions was leaked, with MPs accusing him of breaching the UK’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty.

Theresa May as Prime Minister supported Mr Javid’s original decision, which was also backed by Boris Johnson while he was Foreign Secretary.

Kotey and Elsheikh, who were raised in the UK but have been stripped of their British citizenship, were captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018. 

They are said to have been members of the cell that also included Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a US air strike in 2015, and Aine Davis, who has been jailed in Turkey.

Emwazi appeared in videos in which hostages, including aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were killed.

Mr Foley’s mother Diane called on the Home Secretary to work with the US following Mr Barr’s letter. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We really implore the Home Secretary to consider this new decision and work together with the United States to bring these men to trial.’

Ms Elgizouli’s fresh challenge is being considered by Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Garnham.

The Western hostages captured, tortured and killed by the beheading gang

American journalist who kept up fellow prisoners’ morale 

James Foley, from Illinois, USA, was a journalist who first went missing in November 2012

James Foley, from Illinois, in the US, was a journalist who first went missing in November 2012.

On his way to an internet cafe,  while reporting for the GlobalPost, he had been taken hostage at gunpoint by militants from the group Jabhat al Nusra in Taftanaz, northern Syria.

Jabhat al Nusra subsequently joined forces with ISIS – which did not exist in anything like its current form when Mr Foley was taken.

Mr Foley joined other prisoners, who were European and British, in the ISIS prison and despite attempts to rescue him, he was eventually murdered by his captors.

His fellow prisoners spoke kindly of Foley, who called people ‘Bro’ and never argued over shortages of food, despite meagre rations equating to cup of food-a-day, often sharing his portion and his blanket. 

Mr Foley often made efforts to maintain prisoners’ morale, persuading them to play games and to give talks on their favourite subjects.

He even organised a ‘Secret Santa’ during Christmas 2013, encouraging hostages to make gifts out of whatever they could find. 

ISIS posted his execution video, titled ‘A Message to America’ to social media as proof of his death.

In scripted remarks before his killing, kneeling in an orange jump suit, he said: ‘I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again. 

‘But that ship has sailed. I guess all in all I wish I wasn’t American.’ 


‘The guy lit up a room’: US freelance journalist who was an avid rugby player

Steven Sotloff, 31, from Miami, who freelanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, vanished in Syria in 2013

US journalist Steven Sotloff, 31, vanished in Syria in August 2013.

Mr Sotloff was not seen again until he appeared in a video released online by ISIS on August 2014, that showed James Foley’s beheading.

In a second clip, published weeks later, entitled ‘A Second Message to America,’ Mr Sotloff appeared in a orange jumpsuit before he is beheaded by an Islamic State fighter.

The grandson of Holocaust survivors, Mr Sotloff grew up Miami, before attending the Kimball Union Academy boarding school in New Hampshire before studying at the University of Central Florida. 

While at Kimball, Mr Sotloff was an avid rugby player and on moving to UFC began working for the student newspaper there, the Central Florida Future.

He left this paper in 2005 and began to pursue his dreams of journalism full time.

‘The guy lit up a room. He was always such a loyal, caring and good friend to us,’ former roommate Josh Polsky told the New York Times. 

‘If you needed to rely on anybody for anything he would drop everything on a dime for you or for anyone else.’

Sotloff travelled to the Middle East as a freelance journalist and wrote reports from Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Turkey and Syria.

He often had pieces in Time and Foreign Policy magazines.

‘A million people could have told him what he was doing was foolish, as it seemed to us outsiders looking in, but to him it was what he loved to do and you weren’t going to stop him,’ his friend, Emerson Lotzia, said.

‘Steve said it was scary over there. It was dangerous. It wasn’t safe to be over there. He knew it. He kept going back.’ 

British taxi driver who volunteered as an aid worker

Alan Henning, a father-of-two, was kidnapped on Boxing Day 2013 as he delivered aid to Syrian refugees

Alan Henning, a father-of-two, was kidnapped on Boxing Day 2013 as he delivered aid to Syrian refugees.

The taxi-driver, from Manchester, was kept hostage until he was beheaded by Jihadi John on video in October 2014.   

Before he was killed, Mr Henning was forced to tell the camera that he was being murdered in retaliation for parliament’s decision to attack ISIS.  

Originally from Salford, he had seen the suffering first hand during a life-changing visit to a refugee camp, which inspired him to help the innocents whose lives were being wrecked by the conflict.

After volunteering with a Muslim charity, the 47-year-old agreed to drive 3,000 miles in a convoy of old ambulances to help the aid effort and take much-needed medical supplies to hospitals in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

Known as ‘Gadget’ to friends and family for his fondness for technology, Mr Henning had been washing cars in the UK to raise money for donations before setting off on his fourth visit to the country.

He travelled with eight others from charity Al-Fathiha Global, who intended to deliver vital equipment, including NHS ambulances packed with baby milk, nappies, food and defibrillators, but was kidnapped by ISIS extremists on Boxing Day, shortly after making the 4,000-mile journey to the town of Al-Dana.

A fan of Phil Collins, which he enjoyed playing as he drove, Mr Henning was incredibly popular and during one trip insisted on sleeping inside his ambulance instead of a hotel to save money so it could be donated to the refugees instead.

Kasim Jameel, leader of the convoy on which Mr Henning was travelling when he was kidnapped, described his friend as a ‘big softie.’

Dr Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar, who was also in the convoy, said Mr Henning was ‘remarkable.’

‘He’s such a compassionate and selfless human being,’ she said. ‘It just simply wasn’t enough for Alan to sit back and just donate or raise awareness.

He had to get up and do something about what he’d seen Every time the convoys went he had a yearning to go. That really motivated him, to see, practically, first-hand the difference he was making.’ 

Scottish father-of-two who spent his career as an aid worker

David Haines, who was beheaded a week after Steven Sotloff, was the first British victim of Jihadi John

David Haines, who was beheaded a week after Steven Sotloff, was the first British victim of Jihadi John. 

The father-of-two, from Holderness, East Yorkshire, was taken hostage while working for relief agency ACTED in Syria in March this year.

He was captured near the Atmeh refugee camp, just inside the Syrian border with Turkey. 

Mr Haines spent his career as an aid worker helping to protect innocent civilians in developing nations.

For more than two decades, he travelled with aid agencies through Syria, Libya, the former Yugoslavia and South Sudan.

He dedicated his life to promoting peace in places of violent conflict and oversaw projects to save civilians from land mines.

The 44-year-old was described as a hero by his family, who were inspired by him to travel the world on further aid missions.

He had a teenage daughter in Scotland from a previous marriage with his first wife, and a four-year-old daughter, Athea, in Croatia from his second wife.

Mr Haines was brought up in Perth, Scotland, and studied at Perth Academy before joining the military aged 17.

According to his online CV he spent 11 years in the military, holding ‘various positions covering security and threat assessments in a number of different countries’ between 1988 and 1999.

It did not specify with which armed forces he served, although his ISIS execution video claimed he had been in the Royal Air Force. 

His brother Mike later confirmed this, saying he was an engineer. 

26-year-old who was helping refugees while living in Beirut 

Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old from Indiana, was beheaded by ISIS executioner Jihadi John in November 2014

Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old from Indiana, started a non-profit organisation called Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA).

The Iraq war veteran, who was living in Beirut to provide relief for refugees of the Syrian crisis, was beheaded by ISIS executioner Jihadi John, in November 2014.

Writing on his profile page on fundraising website FundRazr, Mr Kassig said he had previously worked as a medic in a hospital in Tripoli, Lebanon.

He said: ‘When I first started this cause to help those in need, I was on my own but I saw first-hand the shortages in available resources and supplies for people who were suffering in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey as a result of the violence.

‘The amount of feedback and support from people all around the world motivated me to get organised and develop a platform through which people could send donations to support the continuation of my work.’

Kassig joined the U.S. Army Rangers in 2006 and was deployed to Iraq in 2007.

He was honourably discharged for medical reasons after a brief tour and returned to the United States to study political science.

However, in 2010, he decided to take time off from his studies and began his certification as an emergency medical technician.

He then decided to travel to Beirut to try and help those in need as a result of the Syria crisis.

It was after a short time in the country that he started up his own aid group, SERA.

Few details are publicly known about how Kassig was taken captive. 

The 26-year-old humanitarian who said there was always light in darkness

Kayla Mueller, 26, was kept as a sex slave by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi

American Kayla Mueller was a humanitarian aid worker who was kidnapped and taken hostage in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

She was kept as a sex slave by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who raped her repeatedly during her captivity.

The fanatics reportedly demanded 5 million euros from Mueller’s family, telling them that that they would send a picture of her body if they were not given money.

Kotey has admitted having contact with her, adding: ‘I took an email from her myself. She was in a room by herself that no one would go in.’

Her death was reported in February 2015 and her name was used as the codeword for the daring US raid that killed her once captor.

Kayla’s body has never been found and her parents live in hope her remains will be recovered.

Mother Martha said: I want people to see the light in Kayla in such utter darkness, how she just said there is always light.

“And I also want people to see that she even told people that as far as where she was, maybe she was supposed to be there, this is where she was supposed to be all along. She always wanted to help.’

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