January 25, 2022

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ISIS Militants Charged With Deaths Of Americans In Syria

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<div>Two militant fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization, are expected to arrive in the United States today in FBI custody on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.</div>

Two ‘Beatles’ charged with hostage-taking of American citizens in Syria and other terrorism offenses that resulted in the deaths of James Wright Foley, Steven Joel Sotloff, Peter Edward Kassig, and Kayla Jean Mueller

Two militant fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a foreign terrorist organization, are expected to arrive in the United States today in FBI custody on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens, as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals, in Syria.

Former British citizens Alexanda Amon Kotey, 36, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 32, are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia this afternoon.

“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS.  Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Our message to other terrorists around the world is this — if you harm Americans, you will face American arms on the battlefield or American law in our courtrooms. Either way, you will be pursued to the ends of the earth until justice is done.”

“Today, we remember the victims, Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller, and their families who are forever affected by these senseless acts of violence,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “These families have suffered with the painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers; today’s charges demonstrate the FBI’s dedication and commitment to giving them the justice they deserve.  We, along with our partners in the U.S. Government, remain steadfast in our duty to bring to justice those who have harmed our citizens — no matter where they are, and no matter how long it takes. I’m grateful to the men and women of the FBI, the victims’ families, and our domestic and international partners, for their tireless efforts to bring us to where we stand today with the prosecution of these men on U.S. soil.”

According to allegations in the indictment, from 2012 to 2015, Kotey, Elsheikh, Mohamed Emwazi (deceased), and a fourth British citizen (CC-1) currently incarcerated in Turkey, were ISIS fighters and participated in the abduction of American and European hostages in Syria. The men also allegedly engaged in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against the hostages, including against American citizens James Wright Foley, Kayla Jean Mueller, Steven Joel Sotloff, and Peter Edward Kassig. Due to their English accents and their history together in the United Kingdom, the four men were often referred to by hostages as “The Beatles”.

From August 2014 through October 2014, ISIS released videos depicting Emwazi’s barbaric beheadings of Foley, Sotloff, and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning. In November 2014, ISIS released a video depicting the decapitated head of Kassig. In January 2015, ISIS released videos with images of two dead Japanese citizens.

“Kotey and Elsheikh are alleged to have committed horrific crimes in support of ISIS, including hostage taking resulting in the deaths of four American citizens,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Their alleged acts have shattered the lives of four American families. What each these families have sought more than anything else is for these defendants to have their day in court. Well, that day has come. While we cannot return their loved ones or undo the pain that these families face each day, we can do everything possible to ensure that the defendants are held accountable for their alleged savage actions.”

According to allegations in the indictment, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi, worked closely with Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, a former leading ISIS commander and chief media spokesperson. Until he was killed in a United States military airstrike in August 2016, Adnani reported directly to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former self-proclaimed leader of ISIS. Baghdadi was killed during a United States military operation in Syria in October 2019.

“The indictments of Alexanda Kotey and Elshafee Elsheikh are the result of more than eight years of tireless work by the FBI Washington Field Office and personnel across the U.S. Government and the international law enforcement community,” said Acting Assistant Director in Charge James A. Dawson, FBI Washington Field Office. “These individuals allegedly conducted a litany of heinous and barbaric crimes as part of their duties as members of ISIS and for too long, the families of their victims have suffered while awaiting the day they would finally see justice for their loved ones. The men and women of the FBI remain dedicated to bringing the full force of the US justice system upon those who harm our citizens in furtherance of terrorism.”

Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi met repeatedly with Adnani concerning the hostage-taking scheme and other matters. Between November 2012 and February 2015, Kotey, Elsheikh, Emwazi, and other ISIS fighters committed acts inflicting pain, suffering, cruelty and mistreatment on American, British, and other hostages in captivity.   

Throughout the captivity of the American hostages and others, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi allegedly supervised detention facilities holding hostages and were responsible for transferring hostages between detention facilities, in addition to engaging in a prolonged pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages. From November 2013 to February 2015, Kotey and Elsheikh allegedly coordinated the Western-hostage ransom negotiations conducted by email. Kotey and Elsheikh knew and understood that the release of American and other hostages was conditioned on the transfer of large sums of money or concessions from the United States government, such as the release of Muslim prisoners.

According to allegations in the indictment, on or about April 25, 2014, Kotey, Elsheikh, and Emwazi forcibly moved the Italian, Danish, and German citizens, along with two other European humanitarian aid workers, to an isolated area approximately two miles from their prison to witness the execution of a Syrian prisoner. Kotey and Elsheikh knew and understood this execution was part of the hostage negotiation process. Emwazi executed the Syrian prisoner by shooting him in the back of the head and then numerous times in the torso as he fell into a grave. Kotey instructed the hostages to kneel at the side of the grave and witness the execution while holding handmade signs pleading for their release. Elsheikh videotaped the execution of the Syrian hostage, and after the execution the three men returned the European hostages to the prison with Elsheikh telling one hostage, “You’re next, [First name].”

The indictment alleges that ISIS fighters also forcibly seized the following additional individuals: Two United Kingdom citizens, an Italian citizen, a Danish citizen, a German citizen, four French citizens, three Spanish citizens, a New Zealand citizen, and a Russian citizen.

Kotey and Elsheikh were captured together in January 2018 by the Syrian Democratic Forces as they attempted to escape Syria for Turkey. Emwazi was killed in a United States military airstrike conducted in November 2015 in Syria.      

The American Victims

James Wright Foley – In November 2012, Kotey, Elsheikh, Emwazi, and other ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Foley, a citizen of both the United States and the United Kingdom. On or about Aug. 19, 2014, ISIS’s media center released a video depicting Emwazi beheading Foley.

Kayla Jean Mueller – In August 2013, ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Mueller in Syria. Beginning in or about October 2014, Baghdadi sexually abused Mueller against her will while she was held captive in Syria. On or about Feb. 7, 2015, Mueller’s family received an email from ISIS fighters confirming Mueller’s death in Syria.

Steven Joel Sotloff – In August 2013, ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Sotloff in Syria. On or about Sept. 2, 2014, ISIS’s media center released a video depicting Emwazi beheading Sotloff.

Peter Edward Kassig – In October 2013, ISIS fighters forcibly seized and detained Kassig in Syria. On or about Nov. 16, 2014, ISIS’s media center released a video depicting the decapitated head of Kassig.

Kotey and Elsheikh are each charged with conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death; four counts of hostage taking resulting in death; conspiracy to murder United States citizens outside of the United States; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists — hostage taking and murder — resulting in death; and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in death. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The Department of Justice expresses its profound appreciation to the United Kingdom government as well as the Syrian Democratic Forces for their dedicated commitment to assist the United States in seeking justice for all the victims of the alleged crimes.  

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dennis M. Fitzpatrick, John T. Gibbs and Aidan Taft Grano, and Trial Attorney Alicia Cook of the National Security Division‘s Counterterrorism Section (CTS) are handling the prosecution, with the assistance of CTS Deputy Chief Bridget Behling.

An indictment is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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In early July 2020, DOT collaborated with HHS and DHS to issue guidance to airports and airlines for implementing measures to mitigate the public health risks associated with COVID-19, but it has not developed a preparedness plan for future communicable disease threats. DOT has maintained that HHS and DHS should lead such planning efforts as they are responsible for communicable disease response and preparedness planning, respectively. In June 2020, HHS stated that it is not in a position to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan as it does not have primary jurisdiction over the entire aviation sector or the relevant transportation expertise. In May 2020, DHS stated that it had reviewed its existing plans for pandemic preparedness and response activities and determined it is not best situated to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan. Without such a plan, the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to future communicable disease events. GAO also urged Congress to amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to help prevent payments to ineligible individuals. In June 2020, the Senate passed S.4104, referred to as the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act. If enacted, the bill would allow SSA to share these data with Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service to avoid paying deceased individuals. Finally, GAO urged Congress to use GAO's Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) formula for any future changes to the FMAP—the statutory formula according to which the federal government matches states' spending for Medicaid services—during the current or any future economic downturn. Congress has taken no action thus far on this issue. GAO incorporated technical comments received the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury; the Federal Reserve; Office of Management and Budget; and Internal Revenue Service. The Small Business Administration commented that GAO did not include information on actions taken and controls related to its loan forgiveness program or its plans for loan reviews. GAO plans to provide more information on these topics in its next CARES Act report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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    The United States is engaged in an unconventional war, not a war against military forces of one country, but an irregular war against terrorist cells with global networks. Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are sustained military operations, which are taking a toll on the condition and readiness of military equipment that, in some cases, is more than 20 years old. The Army and Marine Corps will likely incur large expenditures in the future to reset (repair or replace) a significant amount of equipment when hostilities cease. The Army has requested about $13 billion in its fiscal year 2006 supplemental budget request for equipment reset. Today's testimony addresses (1) the environment, pace of operations, and operational requirements in Southwest Asia, and their affects on the Army's and Marine Corps's equipping and maintenance strategies; (2) equipment maintenance consequences created by these equipping and maintenance strategies; and (3) challenges affecting the timing and cost of Army and Marine Corps equipment reset. GAO's observations are based on equipment-related GAO reports issued in fiscal years 2004 through 2006, as well as ongoing related work.In response to the harsh operating environments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the unanticipated and prolonged length and pace of sustained operations, the Army and Marine Corps have developed and implemented several initiatives to equip its forces and maintain the extensive amounts of equipment in theater. Environmental factors such as heat, sand, and dust have taken their toll on sensitive components. In addition, operating equipment at a pace well in excess of peacetime operations is generating a large operational maintenance and replacement requirement that must be addressed when units return to their home stations. To meet ongoing operational requirements, the Army and Marine Corps have developed pools of equipment in theater to expedite the replacement of equipment damaged during operations and directed that equipment necessary for OIF and OEF operations remain in theater. In response, the Army and Marine Corps have developed several initiatives to increase the maintenance capacity in theater to be able to provide near-depot level repair capabilities. Although the Army and Marine Corps are reporting high rates of equipment readiness and have developed and implemented plans to increase the maintenance capabilities in theater, these actions have a wide range of consequences. Many of the equipment items used in Southwest Asia are not receiving depot-level repair because equipment items are being retained in theater or at home units and the Army has scaled back on the scope of work performed at the depots. As a result, the condition of equipment items in theater will likely continue to worsen and the equipment items will likely require more extensive repair or replacement when they eventually return to home stations. The Army and Marine Corps will face a number of ongoing and long-term challenges that will affect the timing and cost of equipment reset, such as Army and Marine Corps transformation initiatives, reset of prepositioned equipment, efforts to replace equipment left overseas from the active, National Guard, and Reserve units, as well as the potential transfer of U.S. military equipment and the potential for continuing logistical support to Iraqi Security Forces. Also, both the Marine Corps and Army will have to better align their funding requests with the related program strategies to sustain, modernize, or replace existing legacy equipment systems. Finally, both services will have to make difficult choices and trade-offs when it comes to their many competing equipment programs. While the services are working to refine overall requirements, the total requirements and costs are unclear and raise a number of questions as to how the services will afford them. Until the services are able to firm up these requirements and cost estimates, neither the Secretary of Defense nor the Congress will be in a sound position to weigh the trade offs and risks.
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