In an apparent U-turn, the Home Office has reportedly suspended cooperation with American authorities over the case of two British-raised extremists that could face execution in the US.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid sparked a diplomatic row earlier this week after announcing he would not seek “death penalty assurances” in the cases of El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey.
Critics said the move risked undermining the UK’s long-standing opposition to capital punishment.
While the Home Office’s move is only temporary it may be extended pending the outcome of a judicial review.
Elsheikh’s mother has launched an emergency legal challenge seeking to quash Javid’s decision to provide evidence that would be used at trial without the assurance that the pair would not face execution.
Writing in the Guardian on Thursday, Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, said: “At about midday today, the government beat a tactical retreat – and caved in under the legal and political pressure.”
The Home Office said in a statement: “Yesterday we received a request from the legal representative of the family of one of the suspects to pause the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) response. We have agreed to a short-term pause. The Government remains committed to bringing these people to justice and we are confident we have acted in full accordance of the law and within the Government’s longstanding MLA policy.”
Kotey and Elsheikh, who were brought up in Britain but had their passports revoked, are accused of being part of the Islamic State cell dubbed “the Beatles” by hostages.
The pair, captured in Syria in February, are suspected of being involved in several murders or abductions of hostages, including that of British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines and the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Lawyers representing Elsheikh’s mother on Tuesday asked Javid to declare that mutual assistance with the US would stop.
The Guardian reported that the lawyers, Gareth Peirce and Anne McMurdi, said on Wednesday that the government lawyers representing the Home Secretary had now given an “undertaking that no further provision of assistance would take place”.