El Shafee Elsheik (L) and Alexanda Kotey (R) could be heading to trial in the US where they are at risk of the death penalty if convicted.
El Shafee Elsheik (L) and Alexanda Kotey (R) could be heading to trial in the US where they are at risk of the death penalty if convicted.

Breakfast next to a severed head

A BRITISH man at the centre of a diplomatic row ahead of his extradition to the US to answer terror charges has spoken of having breakfast next to a head that had been cut from a victim's body.

Alexanda Kotey, 34, is a suspected jihadist who was captured in January when Islamic State forces were overwhelmed in Syria, and who is alleged to be part of a four man cell responsible for executing Westerners, including aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.

Kotey and another British man, El Shafee Elsheik, 30, were stripped of their UK citizenship and have been held by Syrian Kurdish forces since their capture.

They and others in the cell, which included Mohammed Emwazi, known as "Jihadi John", were dubbed "The Beatles" due to their British accents.

Kotey and Elsheik are now facing a trial in the US and the UK has agreed to supply intelligence to help prosecutors without demanding they don't face the death penalty.

The pair spoke about their plight in an extraordinary interview with News Corp paper The Times in April where they told of some of the things they'd seen.

"I have become desensitised after six years in Syria," Kotey told journalist Anthony Lloyd, as he detailed how he ate breakfast at a falafel stand next to a headless body and a severed head.

But he insisted he was no "heartless monster".

"That's not to say I have become a heartless monster. It's just to say that something someone saw in the UK that they thought was unbearable and would give them nightmares, well, I could probably see and continue my day."

Both suspects told The Times they considered themselves "family" men and refused to answer when asked about western hostages being beheaded. Instead, they focused on children and elderly people being killed by western air strikes.

Their mood flicked between confrontational and arrogant to occasionally nostalgic and funny. But a French former hostage said that Kotey would try and reason with anyone - but could also be violent.

They reserved their harshest words for Elsheik: "[He was] Really nasty. He loved violence and did much of the torture."

Elsheik and Kotey were said to be in the same cell as Mohammed Emwazi or “Jihadi John” (above).
Elsheik and Kotey were said to be in the same cell as Mohammed Emwazi or “Jihadi John” (above).

But even back in April they could see the diplomatic row their extradition would cause.

The captives knew any court case in the UK would be weak because it would rely on reports from intelligence agencies rather than evidence from hostages who never saw them without their masks.

They were also aware their extradition to the US after their UK citizenship had been revoked could have a ripple effect later.

It was the ignoring of legal precedent they believed made the UK Government hypocritical.

"I am not asking for anything," Elsheik added. "I am not sitting here with a hat for a handout, asking anybody in the West for anything. I am saying your government, your legal system, claims something. It's down to them to do what they claim, otherwise the whole system is a shambles and everyone who claims to stand by it is a bunch of hypocrites" Elsheik said.

He warned it would have consequences next time a similar situation involving a British citizen arose.

"But tomorrow it's another British citizen, someone else's kid, probably British origin. Who is really feeling the wrath of this? Today I am the stone falling in the pool. And your kid is going to eat the wave."

David Haines was one of the aid workers who was allegedly killed by the terror cell.
David Haines was one of the aid workers who was allegedly killed by the terror cell.

The prospect of the pair being sent to the US has caused outrage in the UK because Britain did not seek an assurance from the Trump Administration they would be spared from the death penalty if convicted.

The concession was made in a letter to US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, and had the support of Prime Minister Theresa May.

A spokeswoman from Downing Street said the government's longstanding position was to oppose the death penalty - but in this case - it was a priority "to make sure these men face criminal prosecution".

An alternative was to allow both Kotey and El-Sheikh to go to Guantánamo Bay, a facility Britain wants closed, or even the possibility they would be freed by the Syrians.



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