Two Islamic State suspects from the UK, including one with Cypriot origins, have pleaded not guilty in a US court to charges of conspiring to murder four American hostages.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are accused of belonging to an terrorist cell, dubbed "The Beatles" due to their British accents, which shocked the world over its barbaric treatment and beheadings of kidnapped foreigners in Iraq and Syria.
Kotey, who has a Ghanaian father and a Cypriot mother, was captured along with Elsheikh by Syrian Democratic Forces, with the two suspects being among a number of fighters who had been transferred to the Americans.
US President Donald Trump, who was criticized over the transfers, defied critics who pointed out a possibility that dangerous militants could find an opportunity to escape.
Trump, who is running for re-election next month, had reassured the public that dangerous ISIS fighters would be transferred to American custody before they could have a chance to run away.
'There’s many heads, this is just a couple that I took a photo of'
Kotey and Elsheikh, who were flown this week to the United States after British authorities were reassured they would not face the death penalty, appeared before a US judge on Wednesday.
Reports said the two suspects were arraigned on Friday, pleading not guilty through a videolink before well-known tough judge TS Ellis who sat in his Alexandria courtroom in Virginia.
Both suspects have waived their right to a speedy trial, meaning that their next hearing for January 15 would be part of what Judge Ellis described as “complex and unusual” due to possible classified information as part of trial evidence.
"Time is required in order to achieve the ends of justice in this case," Ellis said, who is known in the American public as a “no B-S judge” who is tough on both persecutors and defence attorneys.
Elsheikh and Kotey are facing trial for involvement in the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and relief workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. They are also suspected of involvement in the deaths of other hostages, including two British and two Japanese nationals.
Videos of killings released online stunned the US government and shocked the international community for their unflinching violence. Recordings routinely showed prisoners in orange jumpsuits on their knees beside a captor dressed in black with a native English accent.
The two suspects said many many ISIS members did not approve of the killings for the simple reason that there would be more benefit if hostages were kept alive as political prisoners. But Kotey also said Western governments refused to negotiate while other hostages were released for ransom.
Elsheikh said the killings were a "mistake," as he explained that executions had to go through because of the initial threat by militants, who stood to lose credibility if they backed down.
According to court records, Elsheikh described to a family member his participation in an attack on the Syrian Army. Foreign media said he was thought to have sent photos of decapitated heads to a family member, telling his relative in a voice message “there’s many heads, this is just a couple that I took a photo of.”