The fate of two British men suspected of being members of an Islamic State execution group dubbed “The Beatles” could escalate into a diplomatic row between the UK and United States.
Washington wants militants captured by the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces to be turned over to face justice in their home countries and the US will raise the issue with allies including the UK at a summit in Rome on Tuesday.
But British ministers have resisted suggestions that Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh should return to the UK to stand trial.
The two men were captured in Syria, having fallen into the hands of Kurdish militia fighters in January, and are under guard in the caliphate’s former heartland.
Alexanda Kotey was captured in Syria (ITV News/PA)
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and US counterpart Jim Mattis will attend a meeting of ministers from the coalition fighting IS in Rome on Tuesday.
The Pentagon chief is expected to use the talks to press allies to deal with captured militants from their countries during the talks.
But Mr Williamson has said he does not think the so-called Beatles “should ever set foot in this country again”.
Junior defence minister Tobias Ellwood has suggested the men should be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
It is understood that the pair have been stripped of their British citizenship although officials at the Home Office have refused to comment on individual cases.
Amber Rudd said ‘The Beatles’ terror suspects should face justice (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told Sky News: “The important thing is that these two people face justice.
“We will always make sure that it’s properly co-ordinated and that they face justice.”
Asked if the men were still British, the Home Secretary said: “I can’t comment on individual cases but we will always make sure that we keep everybody safe.”
But a Whitehall source said: “The day these barbaric terrorists turned their back on this country in pursuit of an evil agenda of bloodshed and slaughter, they forfeited forever their right to return.
“They are not British subjects and should pay the price for their crimes in Syria.”
US officials have said putting the two in Guantanamo Bay is not an option.
Kathryn Wheelbarger, the US principal deputy assistant defence for international security affairs, said: “We’re working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees, and generally expect these detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces are capturing up to 40 fighters a day and their facilities are “eventually going to be full”, she said.