Alexanda Amon Kotey is a U.S.-designated British member of ISIS who previously belonged to the four-member ISIS cell known as “The Beatles.” Led by deceased ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. Jihadi John, The Beatles also included British citizens Aine Davis and El Shafee Elsheikh. The four were responsible for holding captive and beheading two dozen hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig. The Beatles also kidnapped and killed American aid worker Kayla Mueller.Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman, “ISIS militant admits involvement in torture, killings of American hostages,” Washington Post, September 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/islamic-state-hostage-plea/2021/09/02/669d2b2c-0b56-11ec-9781-07796ffb56fe_story.html; “ISIS Militants Charged With Deaths Of Americans In Syria,” U.S. Department of Justice, October 7, 2020, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/isis-militants-charged-deaths-americans-syria. The U.S. government also accused Kotey of recruiting British nationals to fight for ISIS.“State Department Terrorist Designation of Alexanda Amon Kotey,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2017, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/01/266762.htm;
Tom Whitehead and Harry Yorke, “Jihadi John's fourth Beatle unmasked as refugee given shelter in UK,” Telegraph (London), May 23, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/23/jihadi-johns-fourth-beatle-unmasked-as-refugee-given-shelter-in/. Kotey was sentenced to life in prison in April 2022 for his role ISIS’s kidnappings and murder of hostages.“Alexanda Kotey: IS ‘Beatle’ sentenced to life in US for murders in Syria,” BBC News, April 29, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61274332.
Kotey is the London-born son of a Ghanaian father and Greek-Cypriot mother. He reportedly converted to Islam in his early 20s after falling in love with a Muslim woman. In the early 2000s, Kotey, Davis, and Emwazi all reportedly attended the Al-Manaar mosque in Landbroke Grove, London, where Kotey allegedly radicalized, according to accounts from his friends. Kotey would allegedly stand outside of the mosque and preach extremist propaganda, such as arguing that suicide bombings did not violate the Quran.Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes, “ISIS Accomplice Of ‘Jihadi John’ Named As ‘Quiet And Humble’ Londoner,” BuzzFeed News, February 8, 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/unmasked-the-second-member-of-isiss-beatles-execution-cell?utm_term=.hblMB4XJj#.bx3DJ2X7r. The three were reportedly physically removed from the mosque because of their radical behavior.James Fielding, Sarah White, and Rod Ardehali, “‘The fact he's still alive will be a big relief’: Mother of ISIS Beatle suicide squad member is COMFORTED by his capture in Syria as his father admits: ‘We don't know what will happen to our son,’” Daily Mail (London), February 9, 2018, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5372765/Mother-ISIS-Beatle-COMFORTED-capture.html#ixzz56vm9EInH. Mosque leaders later reportedly banned Kotey from returning, after which he began offering private lectures.Rohit Kachroo, “ITV News names the two extremists in Jihadi John's British terror cell,” ITV, February 7, 2016, http://www.itv.com/news/2016-02-07/the-beatles-of-isis-itv-news-names-the-two-extremists-in-jihadi-johns-british-terror-cell/. In or around 2008, Kotey became involved with the London Boys, a radical network linked to terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, including the 7/7 bombings.Adam Goldman and Souad Mekhennet, “Another Islamic State jailer who held Western hostages identified as Londoner,” Washington Post, February 7, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/another-islamic-state-jailer-who-held-western-hostages-identified-as-londoner/2016/02/06/a0f11d28-cc10-11e5-ae11-57b6aeab993f_story.html?utm_term=.9a89ab81d23c. Emwazi was also reported to be a member. Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes, “ISIS Accomplice Of ‘Jihadi John’ Named As ‘Quiet And Humble’ Londoner,” BuzzFeed News, February 8, 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/unmasked-the-second-member-of-isiss-beatles-execution-cell?utm_term=.hblMB4XJj#.bx3DJ2X7r. British authorities have described the London Boys as “a network of United Kingdom and East African based Islamist extremists.”Colin Freeman, “Ladbroke Grove connection - the wealthy west London district that bred Jihadi John,” Telegraph (London), February 26, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11438534/Ladbroke-Grove-connection-the-wealthy-west-London-district-that-bred-Jihadi-John.html.
In February 2009, Kotey left behind his wife and two children and traveled to the Gaza Strip on an aid convoy led by then-Member of Parliament George Galloway. London Boys leader Reza Afsharzadegan also traveled with Kotey, as did now-convicted terror recruiter Munir Farooqi and London Boys member Amin Addala. A friend of Kotey’s on the convoy told Buzzfeed that the trip “changed” Kotey.Robert Booth, Ewen MacAskill, Duncan Gardham, and Damien Gayle, “Londoners Alexanda Kotey and Aine Davis identified as Islamic State 'Beatles,’” Guardian (London), February 8, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/07/londoner-alexanda-kotey-identified-member-isis-group-jihadi-john. Kotey’s parents say they stopped hearing from their son after he took the trip.Jane Bradley, Tom Warren, and Richard Holmes, “ISIS Accomplice Of ‘Jihadi John’ Named As ‘Quiet And Humble’ Londoner,” BuzzFeed News, February 8, 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/janebradley/unmasked-the-second-member-of-isiss-beatles-execution-cell?utm_term=.hblMB4XJj#.bx3DJ2X7r.
According to freed ISIS hostages, The Beatles were among the more brutal of ISIS’s guards. Didier Francois—a French journalist held prisoner by The Beatles for 10 months—told CNN that The Beatles would regularly stage fake executions after telling captives they were to be beheaded.Mick Krever, “ISIS captors cared little about religion, says former hostage,” CNN, February 4, 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/03/intl_world/amanpour-didier-francois/index.html?sr=fb020315isisquran4pVODtopVideo. Escaped captives also reported waterboarding and other torture.Adam Goldman and Souad Mekhennet, “‘That is not the son I raised’: How a British citizen became one of the most notorious members of ISIS,” Washington Post, May 23, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/that-is-not-the-son-i-raised-how-a-british-citizen-became-one-of-the-most-notorious-members-of-isis/2016/05/23/6d66276c-1cfd-11e6-b6e0-c53b7ef63b45_story.html?utm_term=.75e4dbc45560. According to the U.S. Department of State, Kotey “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding.”“State Department Terrorist Designation of Alexanda Amon Kotey,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2017, https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/01/266762.htm.
Kotey was first identified as a member of The Beatles by a U.S. intelligence official in February 2016. Hostages nicknamed the four members of the group “Ringo,” “George,” “Paul,” and “Jihadi John” because of their British accents. It is unclear whether Kotey’s nickname was “Ringo” or “George.” According to reports by BuzzFeed and the Washington Post, “Ringo” said in online statements that he was born and raised in the London neighborhood of Shepherd’s Bush and was a fan of the Queens Park Rangers soccer team. BuzzFeed noted Queens Park Rangers garden gnomes outside of Kotey’s parents’ house in Shepherd’s Bush, seemingly confirming that Kotey is Ringo.Robert Booth, Ewen MacAskill, Duncan Gardham, and Damien Gayle, “Londoners Alexanda Kotey and Aine Davis identified as Islamic State 'Beatles,’” Guardian (London), February 8, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/07/londoner-alexanda-kotey-identified-member-isis-group-jihadi-john.
Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces captured Kotey and Elsheikh in Syria in February 2018. The U.S. government confirmed their capture and aided in their interrogation.Mark Hosenball and Idrees Ali, “Syrian Kurds capture two British Islamic State militants: U.S. officials,” Reuters, February 8, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-britain/syrian-kurds-capture-two-british-islamic-state-militants-u-s-officials-idUSKBN1FS34Q. The British government called for Kotey and Elsheikh’s extradition for trial in the United Kingdom.Mark Townsend, “Calls grow for Isis ‘Beatles’ to face UK trial,” Guardian (London), February 11, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/feb/11/calls-grow-isis-beatles-uk-trial-lord-carlile. Emwazi was killed in a November 2015 U.S. airstrike in Syria,Dana Ford and Steve Almasy, “ISIS confirms death of ‘Jihadi John,’” CNN, January 20, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/19/middleeast/jihadi-john-dead/. and Davis was arrested in Turkey that same month.Tom Wyke, “Jihadi John ‘associate’ believed to be one of the British prison guards nicknamed ‘The Beatles’ is held in Turkey,” Daily Mail (London), November 13, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3317560/Turkish-authorities-detain-London-petty-drug-dealer-turned-Jihadi-John-associate-Aine-Davis.html.
British investigators claimed in July 2019 that they had enough evidence to prosecute Elsheikh and Kotey. The two are accused of belonging to an ISIS cell, with substantial evidence that would also charge Kotey with five murders and eight counts of hostage-taking. The U.S. government announced it would seek to put both men on trial in the United States.Dominic Casciani, Islamic State 'Beatles' El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey could be tried in UK,” BBC News, July 30, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49170646.
On October 10, 2019, Kotey and Elsheikh were taken out of Syria by the U.S. military and transferred to a secure location in Iraq. Both remain in the custody of the American military. According to U.S. President Donald Trump, the two were removed from a prison run by Kurdish militia in northern Syria in an effort to transfer “some of the most dangerous IS fighters” in the region. The move came amid fears that the two would escape custody following U.S. withdrawal from the region and Turkish invasion into the Kurdish-held territory.“British IS fighters taken into US custody, says Trump,” BBC News, October 10, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49995909.
On September 22, 2020, the British government provided the United States with evidence against Kotey and Elsheikh, clearing the way for a trial. The United Kingdom originally prevented the transfer of evidence due to a legal fight over the use of the death penalty. However, the U.S. government has made it clear that if Kotey and Elsheikh were found guilty, they would not be executed.“UK sends US evidence on Islamic State 'Beatles',” BBC News, September 23, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-54255869; Charlie Savage, “British Give U.S. Evidence Against ISIS ‘Beatles,’ Clearing Way for Trial,” New York Times, September 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/22/us/politics/isis-beatles.html.
Two U.S. government officials revealed in early October 2020 that Kotey and Elsheikh would be brought to the United States in mid-October to face charges in a federal court. The U.S. government has accused Kotey and Elsheikh of taking part in the kidnappings of international hostages and in the killing of over 27 people. Despite claiming no involvement in or advance knowledge of executions, in an interview obtained by NBC that aired in July 2020, Kotey and Elsheikh admitted their involvement in the captivity and torture of hostages.“ISIS terrorists known as the 'Beatles' likely to be brought to U.S. in coming days,” NBC News, October 6, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/isis-terrorists-known-beatles-likely-be-brought-u-s-coming-n1242176; Ryan Lucas, “DOJ To Charge 2 British ISIS Militants Accused Of Role In Killing U.S. Hostages,” NPR, October 6, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/10/06/920444181/doj-to-charge-2-british-isis-militants-accused-of-role-in-killing-u-s-hostages; Rachel Weiner and Ellen Nakashima, “Two ISIS militants charged in deaths of James Foley and other American hostages in Syria,” Washington Post, October 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/isis-hostages-beheadings-miltants-charged/2020/10/07/69762ef2-089b-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html.
On October 7, 2020, Kotey and Elsheikh were flown to the United States from Iraq to be prosecuted in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The two were charged with hostage taking resulting in death, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens outside the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign organization, and related conspiracy charges.Rachel Weiner and Ellen Nakashima, “Two ISIS militants charged in deaths of James Foley and other American hostages in Syria,” Washington Post, October 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/isis-hostages-beheadings-miltants-charged/2020/10/07/69762ef2-089b-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html.
In an Alexandria federal court on September 2, 2021, Kotey pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him related to his role in the kidnappings and deaths of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Specifically, the charges were one count of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death; four counts of hostage taking resulting in the deaths of the four Americans; one count of conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens outside of the United States; one count of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists resulting in the deaths of U.S., British, and Japanese nationals; and one count of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization resulting in the deaths of U.S., British, and Japanese nationals.“ISIS Militant Pleads Guilty to Role in Deaths of Four Americans in Syria,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 2, 2021, https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/isis-militant-pleads-guilty-role-deaths-four-americans-syria. The charges carried a mandatory life sentence. Prosecutors agreed that in exchange for his admission of guilt, after serving 15 years in a U.S. prison Kotey may serve the rest of his sentence in the United Kingdom, where he was born. Additionally, if Kotey is transferred to the United Kingdom, he agreed to plead guilty and will also face a life sentence there. If ever released by the U.K., Kotey will be returned to the United States. Kotey’s plea is the first time a member of ISIS has been held accountable in a U.S. court for the killings of the four victims.Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman, “ISIS militant admits involvement in torture, killings of American hostages,” Washington Post, September 2, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/legal-issues/islamic-state-hostage-plea/2021/09/02/669d2b2c-0b56-11ec-9781-07796ffb56fe_story.html.
On April 29, 2022, Kotey was sentenced to life in prison on all eight counts, to be served concurrently. Judge Thomas Selby Ellis described Kotey’s actions as “egregious, violent and inhumane.”“Alexanda Kotey: IS ‘Beatle’ sentenced to life in US for murders in Syria,” BBC News, April 29, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61274332; Richard Hall, “Isis Brit Alexanda Kotey sentenced to life in prison for role in kidnap and murder of hostages in Syria,” Independent (London), April 29, 2022, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/crime/alexanda-kotey-isis-beatles-sentenced-b2068671.html. Earlier that month, on April 14, a federal jury in Virginia convicted Elsheikh on charges of hostage-taking resulting in death, murder conspiracy, and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.“El Shafee Elsheikh: IS 'Beatle' found guilty of hostage-taking and conspiring to murder journalists and aid workers,” Sky News, April 14, 2022, https://news.sky.com/story/el-shafee-elsheikh-is-beatle-found-guilty-of-hostage-taking-and-conspiring-to-murder-journalists-and-aid-workers-12589377. During Elsheikh’s trial, prosecutors stated that while Foley, Kassig, and Sotloff were beheaded by the ISIS members, Mueller—who ISIS originally claimed was killed in a 2015 airstrike in Syria—was believed to be killed by ISIS after being enslaved and sexually abused by the terrorist group for a year and a half.Gillian Morley, “El Shafee Elsheikh, British ISIS member, convicted on all counts for deadly kidnapping plot,” CBS News, April 14, 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-el-shafee-elsheikh-verdict/. Elsheikh was present in the courtroom during Kotey’s sentencing to hear statements from the victims’ families so they would not have to appear a second time.“Alexanda Kotey: IS ‘Beatle’ sentenced to life in US for murders in Syria,” BBC News, April 29, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61274332. Elsheikh was sentenced to life in prison on August 19, 2022.Kanishka Singh, “Islamic State militant gets life in U.S. prison over killing of American hostages,” Reuters, August 19, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/legal/islamic-state-cell-member-faces-us-sentencing-beheadings-2022-08-19/.
- Extremist entity
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Insurgent, territory-controlling, religious, terrorist, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Islamist, jihadist, pan-Islamist, Salafist, takfiri
- Foreign fighter
ISIS is a violent jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria. The group has declared wilayas (provinces) in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. ISIS has also waged attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Kuwait.
The U.S. Department of State designated Alexanda Amon Kotey as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on January 10, 2017.“State Department Terrorist Designation of Alexanda Amon Kotey,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2017, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/01/266762.htm.
The United Kingdom added Alexanda Amon Kotey to its Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets on July 24, 2017.“State Department Terrorist Designations of El Shafee Elsheikh, Anjem Choudary, Sami Bouras, Shane Dominic Crawford, and Mark John Taylor,” U.S. Department of State, March 30, 2017, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/03/269306.htm.
The United Nations added Alexanda Amon Kotey to its ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List on July 20, 2017.“ISIL (Da'esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List,” U.N. Security Council, accessed February 13, 2018, https://scsanctions.un.org/fop/fop?xml=htdocs/resources/xml/en/consolidated.xml&xslt=htdocs/resources/xsl/en/al-qaida.xsl.