Evening Standard comment: The London jihadists should now go on trial


It is unequivocally good news that the last two of the so-called Islamic State executioners known as the Beatles have been identified by Kurdish forces and are in US custody.

The four young men from west London, known as John, Ringo et al by hostages because of their English accents, were conspicuous even in IS for their sadistic brutality.

The ringleader, known as Jihadi John, was best known for decapitating Western prisoners and is now dead, but the two who are with the Americans, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are also alleged to have participated in actual and mock executions, waterboarding, crucifixions and beheadings.

There must be no doubt about what should happen to them.

They should be put on trial for their crimes, and if found guilty must be punished. It would have been good if they could stand trial here but since their victims included American citizens, it is more likely that they will be brought to trial in the US.

Justice should be done, and be seen to be done. This would be preferable to their summary incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.

As Tobias Ellwood, a defence minister and a former soldier, says: “Guantanamo Bay created a new combatant status that bypassed the Geneva convention, used torture and failed to address (indeed fuelled) a wider global jihadist insurgency that continues today.”

He is right.

He also usefully suggests “an agreed international process involving The Hague, which ensures terrorists from any origin are transparently and fairly held to account for their actions”. That idea has real merit.

Meanwhile, Kotey and Elsheikh are providing useful intelligence information about their associates.

We can only hope they can tell us what happened to John Cantlie, a British journalist whom IS captured in 2012 and last appeared on an IS video in 2016.

There is also the problem of what to do with the fourth of the group, Aine Davis, in prison in Turkey for terrorism offences: his sentence is for seven years. The Home Office will have to decide what will happen on his release.

But for these two it is important that they should stand trial.

The mother of one of their victims, James Foley, who has been conspicuous since her son’s beheading for her dignity, has also said that she wants them to be tried for their crimes.

That shows laudable restraint but it is also the right thing to do. It is difficult, but by no means impossible, to secure witnesses to the actions of the pair.

The four Britons are associated with the murder of 27 hostages and the torture of many more; there will be many people who will be able to testify against them, possibly in person, possibly from abroad.

A trial is important, because we should be reminded of what IS — not least these two — did when it possessed power, including genocide, rape, torture and summary executions.

It has lost its territory, but thousands of its members are still at large.

A trial would testify to the civilised values of freedom and justice that these two men have flouted.

Screen stars by night

The Evening Standard British Film Awards at Claridge’s last night was a showcase of talent and style.

Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Broadbent and Simon Russell Beale brought their ineffable glamour to the event, but the winners really did run the gamut of genre, style and form.

Two of the evening’s big winners, God’s Own Country and the delightful Paddington 2, feature uplifting storylines about immigrants; The Death of Stalin, another winner, is comic tragedy.

Our celebration of the winners is a reflection of the breadth of British screen talent and the strength of London’s own film industry.

Long may it flourish.