LONDON: Campaigners and human rights groups in the UK have expressed alarm as it emerged that the UK had bypassed its official policy against the death penalty, which could see two Islamic State recruits face execution in the US.
The so-called ISIS Beatles, in reference to their British origin, were captured by American-backed Kurdish forces in Syria in January.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, from west London, are believed to be two terror suspects out of a foursome that had joined the terrorist network after being radicalised in the UK.
In a letter to US attorney general Jeff Sessions last month, leaked to 'The Daily Telegraph', UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid said Britain will seek no assurances that the pair will not be executed.
"I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought," Javid said.
"All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution," the letter notes.
Shami Chakrabarti, Labour's shadow attorney general, said the home secretary had "secretly and unilaterally abandoned Britain's opposition to the death penalty" and appeared to be encouraging "this grave human rights abuse".
"This a unilateral change of policy without any consultation and I would be amazed if this had been approved explicitly by the prime minister," added Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
Downing Street said British Prime Minister Theresa May was aware of the letter and discussions with the US on this issue were continuing.
"The decision was taken by the home secretary and the former foreign secretary following the advice of lawyers and officials.
The prime minister was made aware of the decision," a Downing Street spokesperson said.
"We are continuing to engage with the US on this issue," the spokesperson said.
Human rights group Amnesty International called Javid's decision a "deeply worrying development".
Kotey and Elsheikh were members of the ISIS cell with two others from west London Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed "Jihadi John", and Aine Davis.
They became associated with the execution of Western hostages.
Emwazi, who was the alleged ringleader and appeared in videos showing hostages being beheaded, was killed in a drone strike in 2015 and Davis was convicted of being a senior ISIS member and jailed in Turkey last year.
In an interview released earlier this year, Kotey and Elsheikh complained about their British citizenship being revoked.
There has since been some uncertainty over whether they should be returned to the UK for trial or face justice in another jurisdiction.
The leaked letter by Javid indicates that US courts were better placed to handle "foreign fighter" cases.
The UK Home Office refused to comment on the leaked document.
"We continue to engage with the US government on this issue, as we do on a range of national security issues and in the context of our joint determination to tackle international terrorism and combat violent extremism," a spokesperson said.