A jihadist terrorist of Cypriot origins was reportedly taken out of Kurdish custody just as Turkey was initiating its ground offensive in Syria, with the US president saying “dangerous ISIS fighters” are in secure locations.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who were members of a British group of Isis militants known as “the Beatles” due to their accents, were reportedly among a number of fighters that were being transferred to the Americans.
Kotey, who has a Ghanaian father and a Cypriot mother, was captured along with Elsheikh by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The two have been accused along with other British nationals of being involved in the beheading of western hostages held in northeast Syria.
Turkey is currently launching assaults against Kurdish militia groups, saying they have been dominated by US-backed SDF. Ankara views SDF groups as terrorists, while Western powers view them as Kurds defending their land against ISIS.
According to the Washington Post, US officials briefed media on the custody transfer operation overnight, saying the two men were out of the hands of Syrian Kurds and in American custody probably in Iraq.
US President Donald Trump, whose actions to pull out troops in northeast Syria preceded Turkey’s attack, was criticized over his plans including the possibility of dangerous militants finding an opportunity to run escape.
Trump was quick to reassure the public that dangerous ISIS fighters would be transferred to American custody before they could have a chance to escape.
“We have taken a certain number of Isis fighters that are particularly bad, and we’ve wanted to make sure that nothing happened with them with respect to getting out,” Trump said.
The US president later tweeted: “In case the Kurds or Turkey lose control, the United States has already taken the 2 ISIS militants tied to beheadings in Syria, known as the Beetles, out of that country and into a secure location controlled by the US. They are the worst of the worst!”
Knews reported last year that if Kotey and Elsheikh were handed over to American authorities, they could possibly be eligible for the death penalty if they faced a trial on US soil. [Kathimerini Cyprus]