In Depth

How four men from west London became the Isis ‘Beatles’

Last two members of British terror cell captured in Syria

Two British Islamic State fighters believed to be part of a four-man group nicknamed “The Beatles” have been captured in Syria.

Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were arrested by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Sky News says. They are accused of detaining and executing Western hostages.

Aine Davis, the third member of the so-called Beatles cell - a name first used by their hostages, in a reference to their British accents - is serving seven years in a Turkish prison on terrorism charges. Mohammad Emwaz, better known as Jihadi John, was killed in a 2015 US air strike.

The capture of Kotey and Elsheikh “apparently brings to an end the grisly regime of fear led by the four young men”, The Daily Telegraph writes.

All four grew up in west London, and by all accounts, lived fairly standard lives before moving to the Middle East. So how did these seemingly ordinary young Brits become some of the most wanted men in the world?

Alexanda Kotey

Born in 1983, Kotey is half-Ghanaian, half-Greek Cypriot, and grew up in Shepherd’s Bush in a family of dress cutters. He was connected to the “London Boys” –a network of extremists linked to the July 2005 London bombings who fomented radical Islam while playing football in west London - and is believed to have converted to Islam in his early 20s, after falling in love with a Muslim woman, the Telegraph says.

According to BuzzFeed, Kotey “travelled to the Middle East alongside three other known extremists on a controversial aid convoy to Gaza”. Friends back in London said Kotey, now in his early 30s, has never contacted them since.

El Shafee Elsheikh

The 29-year-old British citizen grew up in a family who fled Sudan in the 1990s, The Independent reports. 

Elsheikh supported Queens Park Rangers football team and worked as a fairground mechanic in London. His father, Rashid Sidahmed Elsheikh, described his radicalisation as “lightning fast”. He told the Daily Mail: “We tried to handle this in a mild, considerate way but before we could do anything, he just left.”

Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli, told BuzzFeed that her “perfect” son was influenced by the sermons of Hani al-Sibai, a west London Islamist preacher who described the London bombings as a “great victory”. Elsheikh ran away to Syria to wage jihad in spring 2012, she says.

Aine Davis

Aine Davis, in his mid-30s, was “part of a worryingly familiar trend: the petty criminal who embraced violent jihad”, says the BBC.

The Guardian describes Davis as a former driver and drug dealer. In 2006, he was jailed for firearms possession after police smashed a gang supplying hundreds of weapons to the criminal underworld. Davis is believed to have become a Muslim while in prison, taking the Islamic name Hamza. He befriended Emwazi at a mosque in west London shortly before leaving for Syria. 

Davis denied any involvement with Isis during his trial.

Mohammed “Jihadi John” Emwazi

Widely considered the leader of the four-man terror cell, Emwazi was born in Kuwait and moved to the UK in 1988, when he was six. He was educated in north London and graduated from computer programming at the University of Westminster in 2009. As a teenager, he seems to have been interested mainly in music, drinking alcohol and going to clubs, according to Robert Verkaik’s book, Jihadi John: The Making of a Terrorist.

Verkaik seems torn between two theories about Emwazi’s transformation, says Andrew Anthony in The Guardian. One is that he had a “pathological grievance” towards the British state after a surveillance campaign by the intelligence services. The other suggests he was a “practised liar and devoted jihadist all along”.

Preventing radicalisation

It is unclear whether all four men knew each other in Britain before leaving for Syria.

Despite floating his own ideas about Emwazi’s motivation, and about what the Government should do to prevent future Jihadi Johns, even Verkaik admits that there “as many reasons why someone turns to extremism as there are jihadists fighting in Syria”.

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