British Jihadis Dubbed ‘Beatles’ Could Face U.S. Death Penalty

(Bloomberg) -- Two of the four Islamic State fighters nicknamed “the Beatles” for their British accents could be sent to the U.S. for trial, after U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid dropped Britain’s usual demand for a guarantee that the death penalty would not be imposed.

In a letter leaked to The Daily Telegraph, Javid told U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions the U.K. would not demand a “death penalty assurance” in the case and indicated he thought there would be more chance of a successful trial in the U.S. than in courts in the U.K. -- where he was concerned objections over their extradition could derail a counter-terrorism prosecution.

The plan would be a departure from the U.K.’s longstanding foreign policy and could fan tensions in the government, with Prime Minister Theresa May struggling to maintain Cabinet support for her Brexit strategy following the resignations of two key ministers. May was “aware” of Javid’s decision, her spokeswoman said, stopping short of saying the prime minister fully backed it.

“It’s a long-standing principle of the government to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances,” Alison Donnelly told reporters in London on Monday. “It is vital that justice is done in this case, not least for the victims’ families,” she said, adding that discussions were still ongoing with the U.S.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are currently stateless, having had their British nationality revoked. They are alleged to be members of the four-member gang accused of beheading U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and murdering Western aid workers in Iraq and Syria.

‘Jihadi John’

Mohammed Emwazi -- dubbed “Jihadi John” -- was killed in a drone strike in Syria in 2015, while the final member, Aine Lesley Davis, was tried and convicted in Turkey in 2017.

There’s little consensus in the U.K. over how to deal with returning jihadis. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said they’d be better off dead, while others have called for long jail sentences, or reintegration for lesser offenses. Opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Alex Carlile, a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, called Javid’s move “extraordinary.”

“We do not extradite people to countries where there is a death penalty unless there is an assurance the death penalty will not be carried out,” said Carlile, a peer in the House of Lords. “This a unilateral change of policy without any consultation and I would be amazed if this had been approved explicitly by the prime minister.”

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