Hussein Al Mulla / AFP
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – A British citizen admitted Thursday night in a federal courtroom near the country’s capital that he played a leading role in the Islamic State’s scheme to torture, hold for ransom and eventually behead American hostages.
Alexanda Anon KotiThe 37-year-old pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him at a US District Court hearing in Alexandria. The charges include hostage-taking that resulted in death and providing material support to the Islamic State from 2012 to 2015.
He pleaded guilty in connection with the deaths of four American hostages – journalist James Foley, journalist Stephen Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig And Kayla Muller – European and Japanese nationals who were also detained.
Kotey is one of four members of the Islamic State who were dubbed “The Beatles” by their captors because of their British accent. He and another man, Al-Shafei Al-Sheikh, were brought to the US last year to face charges after the US assured Britain that neither of the two men would face the death penalty.
The sheikh is still due to appear in court in January. A third Beatle, Mohamed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” was killed in a 2015 drone strike. A fourth member is serving a prison sentence in Turkey.
The plea bargain includes a minimum sentence of life imprisonment without parole
The plea bargain sets a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without parole. After 15 years, he will be eligible for transfer to the UK to face any potential fees there.
In the plea deal, he admitted that life was an appropriate punishment in the UK as well. If he were to receive a less than life sentence there, the deal would require that he serve the remainder of his life sentence, either in the UK if that country was to, or be sent back to the US to serve his life. .
The agreement also requires him to cooperate with the authorities and answer questions about his time with ISIS. However, he will not be required to testify at the Sheikh’s trial.
The deal also requires him to meet with the families of the victims if they request it.
Kotey gave a fairly detailed account of his time in the Islamic State when US District Judge T.S. Ellis asked him to explain in his own words what he had done.
He said he traveled to Syria “to take part in a military fight against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian forces” and that he eventually pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“I accept being seen as an extremist with extremist views,” he said.
He admitted that he was involved in “capture-and-hold operations” to kidnap Foley and other Western hostages and that he led efforts to extract ransoms.
He described the violence inflicted on the hostages as a necessary part of keeping them in line and persuading Western governments to pay the ransom.
Kotey says he has multiple roles within the Islamic State
In the years since the hostages were killed, he said he played multiple roles within the Islamic State, including that of a sniper and director of a special forces training camp.
Attorney General Dennis Fitzpatrick said at Thursday’s hearing that Coty, Sheikh and Emwazi were all friends at a young age in London, where they became radicalized.
In a statement, Raj Parikh, acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who is also a member of the prosecution team in the Coty and Sheikh cases, said the case has always been for the victims and their families. He added, “Their steadfastness, courage, and perseverance ensured that terrorism would never have the last word. The justice, fairness and humanity that this defendant received in the United States stand in stark contrast to the cruelty, brutality, and indiscriminate violence promoted by the terrorist organization he espouses.”
According to the indictment, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also raped Mueller. US forces killed al-Baghdadi in Syria in 2019.
Koti and Sheikh were captured in Syria in 2018 by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as they attempted to flee to Turkey.
Family members of the four victims attended Thursday’s hearing and stood outside the courtroom afterwards with prosecutors. They will have a chance to speak at the official verdict on Kotey on March 4.
James Foley’s mother, Diane, said she was grateful for the conviction and commended prosecutors for obtaining a detailed account of Coty’s conviction.
“This accountability is necessary if our country is to discourage hostage-taking,” she said. Diane Foley also called on the US government to prioritize the return of all Americans detained abroad.