The US has today confirmed that it is detaining two of the most dangerous members of Daesh within Iraq after transferring them from Syria following the start of the Turkish military operation east of the River Euphrates. The two fighters, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafi El-Sheikh, were part of the group’s execution cell known as “the Beatles”.
Both militants were British nationals and are believed to be responsible for the beheading of a significant number of hostages, particularly foreigners. Among their victims were British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The two were captured in January last year before being held in a prison in north-eastern Syria by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They have been transported by the US military to Iraq due to fears that they could escape in the expected fighting if they are not under the supervision of the US and SDF.
US President Donald Trump announced yesterday that, “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.” He added on Twitter, “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 [sic], out of that country and into a secure location controlled by the US. They are the worst of the worst!”
The Turkish operation is intended to push back Kurdish militias such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and SDF from the Syrian-Turkish border and to create a safe zone to house up to two million Syrian refugees. However, following its launch this week, many people have expressed their concerns about the fate of the captured Daesh fighters held in north-east Syria.
There has been increasing speculation, particularly from those opposed to this move by Turkey, that the captured Daesh prisoners could escape due to the unstable situation or be freed by the Kurdish militias themselves as they flee in advance of the Turkish army.