WASHINGTON, D.C. – FBI Director Christopher Wray delivered the following remarks during a press conference in Washington, D.C. with Department of Justice officials announcing the indictments of ISIS members Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh on charges related to their participation in a brutal hostage-taking scheme that resulted in the deaths of four American citizens as well as the deaths of British and Japanese nationals in Syria.
Today’s announcement makes clear once again that combating terrorism remains the FBI’s top priority—and that the entire United States government remains committed to bringing to justice anyone who harms our citizens.
We showed that resolve to the world last week by repatriating Americans who had traveled to Syria to support ISIS—so that they will face charges here. And today, we’re demonstrating that resolve by bringing to our shores two men who left Britain to become ISIS terrorists. Now they are going to face justice in an American court of law for crimes against American citizens.
Not long after these terrorists were captured in 2018, the parents of their American victims wrote the following about their loved ones, and I quote:
“One by one, our children … were taken from us by the hateful criminals of the Islamic State … Jim, Steven, Peter, and Kayla were like so many of your own sons and daughters. They were four unique, passionate young Americans … and all risked their lives pursuing a greater good.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray was joined by Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger, and Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office James A. Dawson at the October 7, 2020 press conference announcing charges against ISIS militants Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh.
The families of the victims have suffered the painful loss of their loved ones at the hands of brutal killers. And while their pain may never fully subside, today, with the announcement of this indictment, we’re beginning to bring them the justice they deserve.
But we owe these families more than justice—we owe them our gratitude. And I say that because their advocacy for their loved ones has led to positive changes in how our government supports and partners with victims’ families.
One of those changes was the creation a few years ago of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell. This multi-agency team, based at FBI Headquarters, represents our government’s unified approach to recovering American hostages abroad. Its single focus is to bring these hostages home safely and partner with their families in the recovery effort.
A key part of that fusion cell is the Family Engagement Team. That team not only coordinates support to family members of hostages during times of agony and uncertainty—it also supports hostages and families once the crisis is over.
The FBI and our partners are working tirelessly every day to recover all U.S. hostages held abroad, and we won’t rest until we see a similar resolution for justice against all those responsible for holding Americans captive—especially when those captives’ lives are taken.
Today I want to also thank the men and women of the FBI, and our domestic and international partners, for their unflagging efforts to investigate, charge, and ultimately, hold these two men responsible for their crimes. Over the course of this investigation, and many others like it, these dedicated professionals put themselves at risk, conducting interviews and collecting evidence to build the cases that ultimately led us to where we are today—with these two men facing justice in the United States.
Like Assistant Attorney General Demers, and based on conversations I’ve had on a number of occasions, including on the phone just this morning, with the attorney general, I know the attorney general joins us in particularly thanking our British counterparts and our international partners for working with the United States to bring charges in our criminal justice system. We mourn not only our American victims, but also the British victims, David Haines and Allen Henning, and victims of all nations who suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of ISIS.
Let there be no doubt: The FBI, the U.S. government, and our partners remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism—including the threat from ISIS. Today, ISIS is still trying to radicalize people—here in the United States and elsewhere—through online propaganda and their global network of supporters. Their goal is to motivate people to launch attacks against Western targets wherever they are, using any means available.
But as today’s announcement shows, the FBI and our partners, both here and overseas, will continue to relentlessly pursue these terrorists—and anyone who chooses to support terrorist organizations like ISIS—no matter where they are, and no matter how long it takes.
Now I’ll turn things over to Zach Terwilliger, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who will provide more a little bit more detail about the indictment itself.