Uproar in Britain as Minister Says UK Will Not Block Death Penalty on ISIS 'Beatles'

Published July 23rd, 2018 - 11:57 GMT
Home Secretary Sajid Javid faces a major backlash today after making it clear Britain will not block the death penalty for the ISIS 'Beatles'. (Shutterstock/ File)
Home Secretary Sajid Javid faces a major backlash today after making it clear Britain will not block the death penalty for the ISIS 'Beatles'. (Shutterstock/ File)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid faces a major backlash today after making clear Britain will not block the death penalty for the ISIS 'Beatles'.

The UK government has told the US it will not seek guarantees that the notorious jihadis will be spared execution.

A leaked letter from Mr Javid to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions also suggests Britain is ready to share intelligence so the pair - Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh - can be prosecuted under American laws. 

The commitments, made last month according to the Daily Telegraph, drew accusations that Mr Javid had 'unilaterally' scrapped Britain's opposition to the death penalty and torture camp Guantanamo Bay. 

However, Home Office sources told MailOnline there was no change to the precedent and discussions with the US authorities are still ongoing.

The 'Beatles' pair – nicknamed after the British band because of their English accents - were involved in jihadist activity and became one of the Islamic State's most notorious terrorist silos.

They were led by the infamous Jihadi John – also English - whose real name was Mohammed Emwazi and was killed by a drone strike in Syria three years ago.

The terrorist group was behind the murder US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig. 

Kotey and Shafee El-Sheikh were captured in January earlier this year as they attempted to flee, and are being held by the US-backed Syrian Defence Force. 

They previously held British citizenship, but it is not clear whether it has been revoked by ministers. 

In his letter to Mr Sessions, dated June 22, Mr Javid wrote that the UK will not need 'assurances' that the pair will avoid the death penalty.

'I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought,' he wrote.

'I have instructed my officials to set out the terms of our assistance and to work with your officials to action the request. As you are aware, it is the long held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK Government's stance on the global abolition of the death penalty.'

'Intelligence' garnered by the Metropolitan police and the FBI show that security agencies have been investigating the Beatles for four years as part of a criminal inquiry involving 14 other countries.

Mr Javid wrote that 'kidnap and murder' were among the crimes being looked into and suggested that the UK's Crown Prosecution Service might not be able to deal with the pair effectively under current legislation.

He wrote: 'Ensuring foreign fighters face justice raises a real challenge for all our jurisdictions, however in this instance we believe that a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in your statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.

'The US currently has additional charges for terrorism offences which are not available under UK criminal law, and those offences carry long sentences.'

Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti said: 'Sajid Javid appears to have secretly and unilaterally abandoned Britain's opposition to the death penalty. By doing so he is not just playing with the lives of these particular terrorists but those of other Britons - including potentially innocent ones - all over the world.

'Just as we should be persuading countries like the US and Iran to drop the death penalty, Sajid Javid appears to be encouraging this grave human rights abuse.' 

Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation and Lib Dem MP, said a 'decades old' policy was being ditched. 

'It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament,' he said. 

'It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office - including when Theresa May was home secretary - and very recently by the highly-respected security Minister Ben Wallace.

'Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty. That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.' 

Although the letter does not mention Guantanamo Bay, another note from the same day obtained by the Telegraph was headed 'official sensitive' and read that UK ministers had shared information 'without seeking death penalty assurances'.

Under a section headed 'Guantanamo Bay', it read: 'If the US deems a federal prosecution not possible, they might seek transfer of Kotey and El-Sheikh to Guantanamo Bay (GTMO).

'Although HMG 'Her Majesty's Government' will not lobby the US to not send them to GTMO, we will maintain our long-standing position that GTMO should close.

'GTMO is seen by many as acting as a recruiting sergeant for extremists' intent on undermining Western values.'

The 'Beatles' pair – nicknamed after the British band because of their English accents - were involved in jihadist activity and became one of the Islamic State's most notorious terrorist silos.

They were led by the infamous Jihadi John – also English - whose real name was Mohammed Emwazi and was killed by a drone strike in Syria three years ago.

Among some of the most deplorable acts carried out by the hit gang were slaughtering journalists, aid workers and holding Westerners hostage.

They murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig. 

In 2014 and 2015 they held and tortured 20 hostages.

The Beatles pair were captured in January earlier this year as they attempted to flee anti-Islamic State.

The Home Office would not comment on the leaked documents and reiterated its position on the detention facility.

A Home Office spokeman said: 'We continue to engage with the US Government on this issue, as we do on a range of national security issues and in the context of our joint determination to tackle international terrorism and combat violent extremism.

'The UK Government's position on Guantanamo Bay is that the detention facility should close.'

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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