Last night, The New York Times reported and Reuters confirmed that two British Islamic State (IS) jihadists, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, both of them designated terrorists by the United States, have been arrested in Syria. Kotey and Elsheikh, along with the late Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir) and Aine Davis, formed a four-man cell that has become known as “The Beatles”—hence Emwazi being near-universally known as “Jihadi John”—that guarded, abused, and murdered hostages for IS from before the “caliphate” was founded in 2014. Continue reading
The outreach director of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners), Moazzam Begg, went to Syria between October 2012 and April 2013. Begg was arrested in Britain on Feb. 25, 2014, on terrorism-related charges because while in Syria, Begg attended a terrorist training camp. Begg was held in Belmarsh until Oct. 1, 2014. Begg had been due to begin trial on Oct. 5, 2014, but that trial was abandoned because of new evidence that meant there was “no longer a realistic prospect of gaining a conviction,” and Begg was released.
Begg is on record as having said that he “help[ed] to run a training camp in the countryside near Idlib … where opponents of the [Assad] regime could undergo physical exercise and acquire the rudiments of first aid and military training, with fake wooden guns.” There is certainly an ambiguity here: the only real defensive policy for Syria’s civilians is one that overthrows Assad, so Begg’s claim that what he did “was not an act of terrorism, but an attempt to help people defend themselves,” is not, on its face, ridiculous. Begg’s problem is that this was not a camp for Syrians; the camp he “help[ed] to run” was for foreign al-Qaeda members, who have done immense damage to the anti-Assad cause, associating it with fanaticism and atrocity and warding off necessary international support that could have toppled the dictator. Continue reading