Two British men believed to be members of a notorious Islamic State group (IS) cell have been seized by Syrian Kurdish fighters, US officials say.
Alexanda Kotey, 34, and El Shafee Elsheikh, 29, were the last two members of the cell to remain at large.
The four, all from London, were nicknamed “the Beatles” because of their British accents.
US officials said the “execution cell” had beheaded more than 27 Western hostages and tortured many more.
The alleged ringleader of the group was Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed Jihadi John, who was killed in an air strike in Syria in 2015.
The other suspected member of the cell was Aine Davis, who was jailed in Turkey last year on terrorism charges.
The latest arrests were confirmed by US officials. Details of the men’s capture were not immediately clear and the UK Foreign Office said it did not comment on individual cases or investigations.
Officials quoted by US media said the two men had been captured by members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, who are targeting remnants of IS.
According to the New York Times, US officials were told in mid-January that the two may have been captured and the men’s identities were later confirmed using fingerprints and other biometric data.
The US state department says the four-man cell was responsible for beheading several Westerners.
Emwazi, who was born in Kuwait, was the masked militant who featured in gruesome IS videos, taunting Western powers before beheading hostages.
Victims who appeared in those videos included British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and American aid worker Peter Kassig.
Who were the IS ‘Beatles’?
- Mohammed Emwazi – dubbed Jihadi John, beheaded a number of Western hostages on video. The west Londoner was killed in a drone strike in 2015 in Raqqa, the former de facto IS capital in Syria
- Aine Davis, also from west London, was convicted of being a senior IS member and jailed in Turkey last year
- Alexanda Kotey, another west Londoner, took part in the torture of hostages, the US State Department says, and also acted as a recruiter for IS
- El Shafee Elsheikh “earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions” while serving as the cell’s guard, the US state department says
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS. The US-backed group has played a key role in driving IS from its strongholds in Syria.
The US has said it aims to maintain an open-ended military presence in the country to ensure the jihadist group’s defeat.
However, the presence of large numbers of Kurdish armed forces in northern Syria has alarmed neighbouring Turkey.
Syria war: Last of British IS ‘Beatles’ gang captured by Kurds}