BEIRUT (Reuters) – One of two British Islamic State (IS) militants known for their role in the torture and killings of Western hostages in Syria was aiming to reach Turkey when he was captured by Kurdish-led forces last month, a Kurdish official said on Friday.
U.S. officials said on Thursday that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed militia force, had captured Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two of four militants known as the “Beatles” for their English accents.
Senior SDF official Redur Xelil told Reuters that Kotey was captured in a rural area of Raqqa province on Jan. 24.
“He was intending to escape toward Turkey with cooperation and coordination with friends of his on the Turkish side,” Xelil said. “He is now under investigation with us,” he said. Xelil gave no information about the second militant, Elsheikh.
A senior security official in Turkey, however, accused the SDF of anti-Turkish propaganda, saying it was “nonsense” that an IS militant would say they were going to Turkey, and that Ankara was taking every step to eliminate IS militants in Turkey.
“It is not that easy to cross the border without permission, there is a wall as well,” said the official.
The SDF, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, has consistently accused Turkey of supporting IS militants in northern Syria, where the U.S.-led coalition has helped the SDF to drive the jihadists from swathes of territory.
In 2016 Turkey launched a military incursion into northern Syria to drive back IS fighters from the border, and it has built a wall along its 911-km frontier to try to halt infiltration.
Turkish authorities have also detained hundreds of people across Turkey suspected of being Islamic State members since IS fighters were defeated in the Syrian city of Raqqa in October by the SDF.
Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and is listed as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.
It launched an offensive into the Kurdish Afrin region of northwestern Syria on Jan. 20, aiming to crush the YPG.
The senior Turkish security official said: “Turkey is open to joint cooperation, including intelligence, with all its international partners. Turkey has been fighting with IS in every way both inside the country and abroad.”
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Amuda and Orhan Coskun in Istanbul; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Hugh Lawson)