The two “Beatles” captured while fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) have been transferred to US custody and will face trial in the United States.
London-born Alexanda Kotey, 35, and El Shafee Elsheikh, a 31-year-old Briton born in Sudan, had been in the custody of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces since February 2018.
Donald Trump, the US president, confirmed the pair had been taken into US custody.
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 U.S. They are the worst of the worst!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2019
Mr Trump said on Wednesday that the US had moved some Isil prisoners amid fears some could escape custody as Turkey invades northeast Syria.
The Turkish invasion of the Kurdish-held region, launched on Wednesday morning, threw into doubt the continued custody of the pair. Two other members of the “Beatle” cell died while fighting for Isil, and the fate of the surviving two has been the subject of much speculation.
One senior US official told the paper that the two men had been taken to Iraq. Other officials said they and other high-value detainees were being placed in US military custody, but could not say where they were being taken.
The pair have been stripped of their British citizenship and the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them in the UK.
US officials, though, suspect both men "participated in the detention, exploitation and execution of Western detainees".
Both Kotey and Elsheikh face the possibility of the death sentence if they are found guilty in a US court.
Their potential transfer to the US has been delayed by Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli, who has challenged the British government’s decision not to prosecute her son in Britain. She has also sued the British government to block any evidence-sharing with US prosecutors without a legal assurance that her son will not be executed.
“Mrs Elgizouli is solely concerned to protect her son from the death penalty,” said Edward Fitzgerald, the family’s lawyer, in a July hearing before the Supreme Court in London.
“She recognizes that they should face justice. But she submits that they should face justice in this country.”
The State Department, Pentagon and Foreign Office did not immediately respond to The Telegraph’s request for confirmation.
Donald Trump announced on Wednesday evening that the US was taking custody of some of the most hardened terrorists.
"We are taking some of the most dangerous ISIS fighters out and we’re putting them in different locations where it’s secure," he said.
"In addition, the Kurds are watching, and if the Kurds don’t watch, Turkey will watch. They don’t want those people out any more than we do. But we have taken a certain number of ISIS fighters who are particularly bad and we’ve wanted to make sure nothing happened to them with respect to getting out.”
The move shows how worried US authorities are about the possibility of a prisoners taking advantage of the chaos.
The prison holding The Beatles is close to the Turkish border near the town of Kobane, in the firing line of Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebel fighters.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US's partner force on the ground which had been holding them, reported last night that an area near a prison holding some of the most dangerous Isil suspects was hit by Turkish shelling.