Fear of Trump ‘outrage’ led to UK dropping objection to death penalty for IS suspects, court hears

The high court has been told that UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid, did not seek assurances from the US that two IS fighters suspects would not face the death penalty, to avoid “political outrage” in the Trump administration.

The allegation came as the high court in London heard an application on behalf of the mother of El Shafee Elsheikh, who along with Alexanda Kotey, faces prosecution over their alleged involvement in terrorist group, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Maha Elgizouli’s application questions the legality of the Home Office’s deal to provide evidence to US prosecutors.

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Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Elgizouli alleges that Sir Kim Darroch, the British Ambassador in Washington, had warned UK Home Secretary Javid that seeking assurances over the death penalty of the two suspects would only provoke “something close to outrage” among US President Donald Trump’s top aides, namely US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state and James Mattis, the US defense secretary.

Javid who at the time had been in his role for less than a month, had Darroch’s concerns reaffirmed, on a visit to Washington. During a meeting with Sessions, Javid was left in no doubt that failure to fully cooperate with the US prosecution would have severe repercussions. The then foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, eventually agreed with him, the lawyer argued.

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Fitzgerald told the court that the UK were acting in defiance of advice from the Foreign Office and senior civil servants, as the President’s aides “will wind up the president and he will hold a grudge,” damaging UK-US relations.

The court was also told that Javid didn’t even take up earlier partial assurances the Americans had offered over not using British evidence in seeking the death penalty.

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Elsheikh and Kotey, who grew up in Britain, are alleged to have been part of the so-called ‘Beatles’ IS cell that is thought to have been responsible for carrying out 27 beheadings of UK and US nationals in IS-held territory. Victims included British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley.

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The pair, who have had their British citizenship revoked, were captured by Syrian Kurdish fighters in February, prompting behind-the-scenes talks between the UK and the US governments over where they should be prosecuted.

Elsheikh’s mother, Maha, accepts he should be appropriately punished. “Her concern is the death penalty … It’s relevant that the families of the victims have said they want justice but not the death penalty,” Fitzgerald told the court.

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