Face to face with ‘the Beatles’, the Isis torture squad

Ricardo Vilanova never wanted to be part of the story. The Spanish photojournalist went to Syria in 2011 to cover the revolution brewing against Bashar al-Assad. But at the end of 2013 there was no firm ground in the war. The rebels he thought would offer protection did not and he was taken hostage by Islamic State. The fracturing landscape brought a flood of new foreign fighters.

Murder and torture is an act of religious devotion.

The men who captured Ricardo were from west London, a gang of four who were known to their captives as “the Beatles” and would become notorious as torturers and killers. One, Mohammed Emwazi, was killed in a drone strike in 2015. Another, Aine Davis, is doing time in a Turkish jail after being convicted on terrorism charges last year.

The other men suspected of being part of the group, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are locked up, under US guard, at an undisclosed location in northern Syria. Together, the four men are accused of involvement in the beheading of 27 men. Both Kotey and Elsheikh, who were captured by Kurds in January, deny they were part of the torture cell.