Briton Alexanda A. Kotey, alias "Jihadi Ringo," pleaded guilty to participating in the kidnappings and deaths of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and humanitarian workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Three of the crimes were posted on videos on the Internet.
Seven years after the Islamic State horrified people worldwide by beheading hostages and using their deaths in propaganda videos, a former member has admitted his involvement in the murders of four Americans.
Alexanda A. Kotey, 37, pleaded guilty Thursday in Alexandria federal court to involvement in the abductions and killings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and humanitarian activists Peter Kassig and Kayla Muller.
All three were beheaded on camera in videos posted online. The circumstances of Mueller's death remain unclear.
The four traveled to Syria, friends, and family have said, out of an intense desire to help, whether reporting on the war in that country or assisting those displaced by the conflict.
Kotey's guilty plea marks the first time a member of the Islamic State has been held accountable in a US court for those killings. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
In exchange for his admission of guilt and his promised cooperation, prosecutors agreed that after Kotey serves 15 years in an American prison, he will be able to try to do the remainder of his sentence in the United Kingdom, where he was born.
If so, Kotey also agreed to plead guilty in a UK trial and face life in prison there.
He would be returned to the United States if released by the United Kingdom.
The government accepted the possible transfer because the same terrorist group also kidnapped three Britons. Two humanitarian workers David Haines and Alan Henning, were killed. A third, journalist John Cantlie, was never found, and the British government said in 2019 that he could still be alive.
The parents of the four American victims were in the courtroom Thursday, taking notes and wiping their eyes as their children's names were read over and over again.
He had lobbied for criminal cases in the United States.
After the hearing, James Foley's mother, Diane Foley, thanked the Justice Department for "this excellent prosecution" and pleaded with the government to "prioritize the return of all American citizens abducted or wrongfully detained abroad." To be given ". . "
Koti was captured in Syria in 2018 with El Shafee Elsheikh, another suspected Islamic State militant awaiting trial in the case, and was brought to the United States in October.
Along with the masked killer from the videos, Mohammed Emwazi, who was killed in a drone attack in 2015, and a fourth Londoner, Aine Davis, they became known to the hostages as "The Beatles" because of their British accent.
Kotey was born and raised in London and converted to Islam in the early 20's. He and Emwazi attended the same mosque and traveled to Syria together in 2012.
The United Kingdom, which had revoked the couple's citizenship, assisted the US prosecutors after ensuring that the men would not face the death penalty.
After the hearing, Virginia Eastern District Prosecutor Raj Parekh said that the justice, fairness and humanity that the defendant received in the United States was contrary to the cruelty, inhumanity and indiscriminate violence in which the terrorist organization was involved. Was Today, through the voices and lives of the victims, justice has spoken, and these are the words that will resonate throughout history.
In court, Kotey read out a statement in which he said he was "primarily involved in the whole process of negotiating a ransom from the United States, including the emails and the "videos and emails of proof of life." sent to the families of the hostages. "This role of mine required that I sometimes carry out acts of violence against captives to subdue them, to force those Western governments, including that of the United States, to act quickly and cooperate with our demands. I did not doubt that any breach of our orders by these foreign governments would ultimately result in the indefinite detention of those foreign captives or their execution. "
He also claimed that he served as a sniper for the Islamic State.
Prosecutors have alleged that both Kotey and Elsheikh participated in the Islamic State's attempts to extract ransom from the prisoners' families through calculated brutality.
According to prosecutors, Kotey instructed the hostages to kneel down and watch the execution of a Syrian prisoner while holding signs calling for his release.
Under President Barack Obama, the military tried unsuccessfully to free four American hostages.
Foley, 40, a freelance journalist working for Boston-based GlobalPost, was abducted and a British interpreter in November 2012.
Global Post said it worked hard to save Foley, but a video of his death was posted in August 2014.
Sotloff, 31, was also a freelance journalist raised in Florida and was abducted in August 2013 near Aleppo.
The video of his death was made public in September 2014.
Mueller, 26, was an Arizona humanitarian worker who had worked with agencies like Doctors Without Borders when she was abducted in August 2013. Her family received an email with photos confirming her death in February 2015.
Kassig, 26, was a former Indiana Army Ranger. He founded a humanitarian aid group for refugees. He was on his way to deliver food and medical supplies to refugees when he was abducted in October 2013. The video of his death was made public in November 2014.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria reached its peak in 2015. As the group's territory shrank, the campaign of public beheadings ended. But adherents to the group's violent ideology continue to resort to these brutal methods; In recent months, observers say Islamist militants have beheaded dozens of civilians in Mozambique.
Elsheikh will go to trial in January. Davis was jailed in Turkey in 2017.
Kotey pleaded guilty to charges including hostage-taking that resulted in the deaths of four Americans—and conspiring to support the terrorists who killed American, British and Japanese hostages.