Mohammed Khalifa sentenced to life imprisonment. He was the English narrator for Islamic State propaganda videos.

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A Canadian who became radicalized online, uprooted his life and joined Islamic State in Syria, rising to the top of the terror group’s Anglophone propaganda arm, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday.

Mohammed Khalifa, 39, was the English-language narrator for about 15 Islamic State propaganda videos, including some of its most influential and violent broadcasts, prosecutors said.

But he also had a starring role.

Khalifa has admitted that he appears in the final scenes of two Islamic State documentary videos – ‘Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun’ and ‘Flames of War II: Until the Last Hour’ – executing Syrian soldiers who had been forced to dig their own graves.

Khalifa pleaded guilty in December for conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism resulting in death. Prosecutors have asked for the maximum sentence of life in prison. Khalifa’s lawyers had called for a 20-year sentence, noting he had killed two Syrian soldiers but no Americans, and had a wife and three children. The text of the law under which Khalifa was charged does not require the deceased victims to be American.

Canadian Islamic State propagandist pleads guilty in US federal court

US District Judge TS Ellis III described Khalifa as “the pied piper who played the melody”, enabling the Islamic State to reach English-speakers in the United States and Europe with violent propaganda.

Federal prosecutors said it was effective. Islamic State recruited 40,000 to 60,000 foreign fighters in Syria over the years it was waging war for control of parts of that country, they said, and Khalifa was an ‘instrumental’ figure producing content in English for videos, audio statements and an online website. magazine.

Ellis said Khalifa’s phrase “should be a warning, a beacon to others”.

“Do not become the recruitment tool of ISIS or any other terrorist organization,” the judge said.

Inside the surreal world of the Islamic State propaganda machine

Khalifa was born in Saudi Arabia, lived in Canada from an early age, earned a college degree in computer systems technology in Toronto, then started watching videos online during the Arab Spring that eventually took him to Syria, especially the Qaeda organizer al-Anwar al-Awlaki conferences, Khalifa said in advocacy documents.

In a letter to the judge in January, Khalifa wrote that he left behind a ‘comfortable home’, a ‘promising career’ and marriage prospects in Canada because he was worried about attacks on Syria’s Muslim population. by the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Prosecutors for the Eastern District of Virginia argued that Khalifa was aware of Islamic State activities torturing, ransoming and executing aid workers and journalists while serving in the militant group’s propaganda office.

Khalifa admitted to joining the Islamic State in 2013 and being captured in 2019 after a firefight with the Syrian Democratic Forces. He was twice sworn in to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He requested and received a “fatwa”, or religious dispensation, to fight the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). in Abu Badran, Syria, after Islamic State leaders issued the order to flee.

In online communications, Khalifa called journalists and aid workers targeted by Islamic State “misbelievers” with whom the militant group “had no pact”. In one broadcast, Khalifa called the shooter behind the 2019 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Omar Mateen, “our brother” and noted that it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since September 11th. Khalifa called the victims of the gay disco “dirty crusaders” and “sodomites”, prosecutors said.

“The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, used the media and propaganda in a masterful way in its campaign of terror during the period 2013-2018,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. a memoir on the conviction. Khalifa “was one of the most prolific propagandists of the Islamic State during the rise of the terrorist organization” and “has personally engaged in extreme acts of violence to advance the goals of the Islamic State. Islamic State”.

Edward Ungvarsky, a lawyer for Khalifa, had argued that a life sentence would be “grossly excessive”. He declined to comment after Ellis’ decision.

The world has forgotten this Syrian prison. The Islamic State did not.

“Not only did he express regret for their conduct, but he created a series of ‘counter-narrative’ videos in the hope that he could persuade others to turn away from ISIS in the future and not to repeat the mistakes he made,” Ungvarsky and Cary Citronberg, another lawyer for Khalifa, wrote in a sentencing brief. They had also argued that Khalifa should get prison time credit for the brutal treatment he suffered while in SDF custody.

Khalifa was captured in January 2019 and handed over to the United States at the end of September 2019.

In a press release issued after sentencing, prosecutors said the “Flames of War” videos in which Khalifa is both the voice-over narrator and an executioner in the footage “glamorously depict ISIS and its fighters as well as scenes of violence”.

In a court filing, prosecutors said Khalifa did not go down without a fight.

“When given the opportunity to surrender to the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria in 2019, the Accused threw several grenades and fired his AK-47 at Syrian soldiers to continue his murderous campaign on behalf of the state. Islamic,” prosecutors said.

In Abu Badran, Khalifa, “alone and armed with three grenades and an AK-47, threw a grenade on the roof of a house where SDF soldiers were standing”, according to the prosecutors.

“The grenade exploded and the accused ran into the house and tried to get to the roof, but an FDS soldier was shooting from the stairs,” according to the prosecutors’ sentencing file. “The accused began shooting at the SDF soldier and attempted to use his three grenades during the attack. The accused fired most of his ammunition during the assault before his AK-47 jammed Accused was unable to clean his weapon Accused was injured by shrapnel to his left leg, right leg, left arm and other parts of his body during the shooting .

He surrendered after his rifle jammed, prosecutors said.

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