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U.K. free to give evidence on ISIS 'Beatles' to U.S., British court rules

The ruling clears a critical hurdle in the American effort to prosecute two British-born members of an ISIS execution squad.
Image: Alexanda Amon Kotey  El Shafee Elsheikh
Alexanda Amon Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh at a security center in Kobani, Syria, on March 30, 2018.Hussein Malla / AP

Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted a stay barring U.K. authorities from providing evidence to the U.S. in the case of two alleged ISIS execution squad members dubbed “The Beatles.”

The ruling clears a critical hurdle in the American effort to prosecute the two men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey.

Elsheikh and Kotey are accused of being involved in the killing of American hostages, including the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the kidnapping and detention of an aid worker, Kayla Mueller. The pair of British-born ISIS militants are being held in U.S. military custody in Iraq.

The U.K. Supreme Court had previously ruled that the British government could not provide evidence against the pair to the U.S. as long as the death penalty remained a possibility.

The decision Wednesday came a week after Attorney General William Barr notified the British government that the U.S. will not seek the death penalty against Elsheikh and Kotey, who were captured in Syria in 2018.

Relatives of the victims expressed relief over the ruling.

“It has gone on for far too long,” Marsha Mueller, whose daughter Kayla was killed in 2015, said in a text message to NBC News. “These two men need to be put away, to think of what they have done for the rest of their lives and hopefully just be forgotten.”

“We are happy that justice will be served and that our governments are finally working with each other,” said Art Sotloff, the father of Steven, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2013.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

Kotey and Elsheikh, who have been stripped of their British citizenship and banned from returning to the U.K., are alleged to be two of the four Beatles members involved in beheading Western hostages on camera.

The case reached the British Supreme Court after Elsheikh’s mother filed an injunction to prevent U.K authorities from turning over evidence about the ISIS operatives.

The decision to lift the stay can be appealed. A lawyer for Elsheikh's mother declined to comment on the ruling.

In his letter to British Home Secretary Priti Patel, Barr demanded that the U.K. provide the evidence by Oct. 15, or the men will be turned over to Iraqi authorities, where they would face almost certain execution.

“Time is of the essence,” Barr wrote.

Patel’s office declined to comment on the ruling.

A U.S. official briefed on the matter previously told NBC News that the men will not be transferred to the United States until the classified British intelligence has been turned over.

“They want an open-and-shut case before they transfer them to DOJ custody,” the official said. “They don’t want any room for error."

In interviews last year broadcast recently by NBC News, Kotey and Elsheikh for the first time admitted their involvement in the captivity of ISIS hostages, including Foley and Mueller.

Mueller’s parents, Marsha and Carl, have recorded a video that's scheduled to air at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night.