UK, US discuss fate of British Daesh suspects

The combo picture shows captured British Daesh group fighters El Shafee ElSheikh (L) and Alexanda Kotey (R), posing for mugshots in an undisclosed location. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018

UK, US discuss fate of British Daesh suspects

LONDON: The UK government is in talks with US counterparts over what to do with two men from London detained in Syria on suspicion of terrorism.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said the two men, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, should go on trial, according to media reports. However, Rudd has not confirmed if the suspects will be brought back to the UK.
The accused are the surviving members of a group of four Britons — nicknamed the “Beatles” because of their English accents — who joined Daesh after 2012, and are said to have participated in the torture and beheading of Western hostages. The former Londoners were arrested in Syria.
As both British and American citizens are thought to have been killed by the group, the UK and US have competing jurisdiction over them.
“What we’re looking at is making sure they do face justice, and that they do face the full force of the law for their terrible crimes. We’re working with the Americans to find out how that will be done,” Rudd told media on a trip to the Middle East.
It has been reported that the two suspects have been stripped of their British citizenship, although officials at the Home Office have refused to comment on individual cases.
The British government previously rejected the idea of repatriating the two Daesh fighters, with Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson saying the pair had turned their backs on British ideas and values.
“Do I want them back in the United Kingdom? No, I don’t,” Williamson reportedly said.
The US government is understood to have said that putting the pair into Guantanamo Bay is not an option.
The uncertainty over how to deal with Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh highlights the different pressures faced by the US and British administrations.
Although US President Donald Trump said during his election campaign that he would fill Guantanamo Bay with “bad dudes,” in reality Guantanamo is a sensitive topic.
“The American response (to the arrested suspects) is rooted in the problems they’ve faced over Guantanamo Bay… if they were to take irregular combatants from Syria, Iraq, if they’re non-US citizens that exaggerates the pressure not to take people who are not from the US. They don’t want to take on other nation’s problems,” Dr. Peter Lee, director of security and risk research, at the University of Portsmouth, told Arab News.
The issue is compounded by Trump’s America First policy and his tough stance on immigration.
“The UK context is tied into the number of terror incidents that have happened in the UK and EU over past couple of years. Also, Brexit was about control, who comes into the country, so bringing a proven (extremist) into the country is difficult,” Lee said.
A third factor is the European Court of Human Rights and whether Kotey and Elsheikh are legally entitled to return to the UK, even as potentially stateless citizens.
Lee believes that the deciding factor for bringing the men back to British shores may be Brexit, conversely: “The last thing the British government needs is another course of antagonism with the EU at the time of Brexit negotiations.”
The British government is facing a mounting problem with returning extremists. Last September Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terror coordinator, warned there could be around 25,000 extremists in the UK.


US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

Updated 25 min 49 sec ago

US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

  • The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act
  • The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers announced an agreement on Monday on a $738-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, including new measures for competing with Russia and China, family leave for federal workers and the creation of President Donald Trump’s long-desired Space Force.
It also calls for sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and a tough response to North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, after months of negotiations. It is expected to pass before Congress leaves Washington later this month for the year-end holiday break.
The legislation includes $658.4 billion for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy national security programs, $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars, known as “Overseas Contingency Operations” funding, and $5.3 billion in emergency funding for repairs of damage from extreme weather and natural disasters.
There were concerns earlier this year that the NDAA might fail for the first time in 58 years over steep divides between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate over Trump’s policies.
Because it is one of the few pieces of major legislation Congress passes every year, the NDAA becomes a vehicle for a range of policy measures as well as setting everything from military pay levels to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.
It includes a 3.1 percent pay hike for the troops, the largest in a decade and, for the first time, 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers, something Democrats strongly sought.
Among other things, the proposed fiscal 2020 NDAA imposes sanctions related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and bars military-to-military cooperation with Russia.
Russia is building the pipelines to bolster supply to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, and members of Congress have been pushing the Trump administration to do more to stop the projects as they near completion.
The NDAA also prohibits the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing, to Turkey. It expresses a Sense of Congress that Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which Washington says it not compatible with NATO defenses and threatens the F-35, constitutes a significant transaction under US sanctions law.
The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding.
The NDAA also reauthorizes $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.
Military aid to Ukraine has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, after his administration held up security assistance for Kiev last summer even as the country dealt with challenges from Russia.
Fulfilling one of Trump’s most high-profile requests, the bill establishes the US Space Force as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the Air Force.
The legislation also contains a series of provisions intended to address potential threats from China, including requiring reports on China’s overseas investments and its military relations with Russia.
It bars the use of federal funds to buy rail cars and buses from China, and it says Congress “unequivocally supports” residents of Hong Kong as they defend their rights and seek to preserve their autonomy with China. It also supports improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
The NDAA calls for a sweeping approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, as well as the threat it poses to US forces on the Korean peninsula and allies in the region.
It puts mandatory sanctions on North Korean imports and exports of coal and other minerals and textiles, as well as some petroleum products and crude oil, and it puts additional sanctions on banks that deal with North Korea.
The bill also bars the Pentagon from reducing the number of troops deployed to South Korea below 28,500 unless the Secretary of Defense certifies that it is in the US national security interest to do so.