Two high profile ISIS members are in US custody while concerns linger over Turkey’s operation in Syria
The US military has taken custody of two high profile members of the British ISIS cell known as the “Beatles” as concerns loom over whether the ongoing Turkish offensive could result in ISIS prisoners escaping from undermanned prisons in Syria, according to three US officials.
One of the officials said the transfer was made today.
The second US official said there are plans to bring the two ISIS members, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, to the US for prosecution. The two have been held in northern Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for more than a year.
The State Department accused their ISIS execution cell of “holding captive and beheading approximately two dozen hostages,” including James Foley, American journalist Steven Sotloff, and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
What we know about both ISIS members:
- Kotey is accused by the US State Department of having “likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture” of Western journalists and aid worker hostages.
- Elsheikh “was said to have earned a reputation for water-boarding, mock executions, and crucifixions,” according to the State Department.
The US effort to take custody has moved in fits and starts in recent months. Complications arose because of British legal issues that could prevent the UK from sharing evidence the US needs to prosecute the men.
Given the fast moving developments in Syria, Attorney General William Barr, in recent days, asked President Trump to make this a priority and the President signed-off.
The Washington Post first reported that the two Beatles members were transferred to US custody.
Trump agrees sanctions are needed, but only if Turkey doesn’t act in a “humane” way
President Trump responded to discussions of bipartisan legislation on sanctions against Turkey, sponsored in part by his ally Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Trump said he agreed that sanctions are needed, but only if Turkey doesn’t act in a “humane” way.
“Lindsey and I feel differently,” the President said of Graham. “I think Lindsey would like to stay there for the next 200 years and maybe add a couple a hundred thousand people every place. But I disagree with Lindsey on that. But I will tell you that, I do agree on sanctions.”
Trump said he would be “much tougher than sanctions,” if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “doesn’t do it in as humane a way as possible.”
Trump didn’t explain what he would consider “humane” and added that he’s gotten Erdogan “to stop” moving into Syria “from virtually the first day” the President was in office.
“They wanted to fight, and that’s the way it is,” Trump said, “And they’ve done it for so long.”
Some context: Earlier today, Graham called the situation “a disaster in the making” in a series of tweets and urged Trump “to change course while there is still time.”
The South Carolina Republican and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland plan to introduce bipartisan legislation to sanction Turkey’s economy and military for the Syria operation.
Graham is predicting the legislation will have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, making it impossible for Trump to stop. He has been publicly scathing in his criticism of the President for the Turkey decision.
Turkish military hit 181 targets in Syria operation
The Turkish Defense Ministry said today its armed forces hit a total of 181 targets in Syria.
“Turkish armed forces hit 181 targets of terror organization by air forces and fire support elements within Peace Spring operation,” the ministry tweeted.
About the operation: Turkey began a planned military offensive into northeastern Syria today, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area.