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ISIS militant pleads guilty to role in killing U.S. hostages

Islamic State militant Alexanda Anon Kotey, a 37-year-old British national, admitted in a Virginia federal court on Thursday night that he was connected to the deaths of several foreign hostages, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

Kotey pleaded guilty to eight counts against him, including hostage-taking resulting in death and providing material support to ISIS from 2012 to 2015. As part of the plea deal, Kotey will face a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole, but in 15 years will be eligible to return to the United Kingdom to face potential charges there, The Associated Press reports. Kotey and another ISIS member, El Shafee Elsheikh, were captured in 2018 while trying to enter Turkey from Syria, and were brought to the U.S. in 2020 to face charges. Elsheikh is set to go on trial in January. 

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis asked Kotey to describe his actions while in ISIS, and Kotey said he went to Syria at first to fight against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but then pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He admitted abducting Western hostages in order to get ransom money, as well as torturing them. "I accept I will be perceived as a radical who holds extremist views," Kotey said.

Captives nicknamed Kotey, Elsheikh, and two other ISIS members from Britain "The Beatles," because of their accents, and they were known for their brutality. Foley, Sotloff, and Kassig were beheaded, and Mueller, who was also sexually assaulted by al-Baghdadi, died in captivity in 2015. Relatives of all four Americans were outside of the courthouse on Thursday, and they will be able to speak at Kotey's formal sentencing in March.