Canadian who recounted videos of Islamic State sent to US to face terrorism charge
WASHINGTON – A Canadian who recounted two infamous propaganda videos that the Islamic State group used to recruit Westerners and encourage terrorist attacks has been secretly taken to the United States to face federal prosecution in Virginia.
The man, Mohammed Khalifa, 38, a Canadian who visited Syria in 2013 and later joined the Islamic State group, has been charged with material support for terrorism resulting in death, according to a criminal complaint made public on Saturday . He was captured in early 2019 by a Kurdish-led militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is supported by the United States.
The militia handed over Khalifa to FBI agents this week, and he was flown to the United States. Khalifa, who was born in Saudi Arabia, appears to be the first foreign fighter to be prosecuted in the United States under the Biden administration. He is due to appear in court for the first time early next week.
“Mohammed Khalifa not only fought for ISIS on the battlefield in Syria, but he was also the voice behind the violence,” said Raj Parekh, acting US lawyer for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Parekh said Khalifa “promoted the terrorist group, stepped up its recruitment efforts around the world, and broadened the reach of videos that glorified the gruesome killings and indiscriminate cruelty” of the Islamic State group.
Khalifa was the voice of a 2014 Islamic State video known as “Flames of War”. The unit he worked for was responsible for publishing images as brutal as the beheading of American journalist James Foley and other Western hostages.
Prosecutors said Khalifa “played an important role in the production and dissemination of ISIS propaganda on several media platforms targeting the Western public.”
In a 2019 interview with the New York Times from a prison in northeastern Syria, Khalifa said he had played no role in the killings carried out by the Islamic State group.
“I was just the voice,” Khalifa said. He added in the interview that he did not regret what he had done.
Although Khalifa played down his contributions to the Islamic State group in the interview, prosecutors and the FBI made it clear that he is a “prominent figure” within the Islamic State media unit, which he has held. joined in April 2014. An FBI agent described him as “essential” due to his fluency in Arabic and English and said he was in charge of the “English media section” of the Islamic State group, according to the criminal complaint.
Prosecutors said he helped translate and narrate about 15 videos created and distributed by ISIS. According to prosecutors, two of the most “influential and extremely violent” propaganda videos were titled “Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun” and “Flames of War II: Until the Final Hour”. The first was distributed in September 2014 and the second in November 2017.
According to court documents, Khalifa was not only a propagandist but engaged in fighting. In the days leading up to his capture by the Syrian Democratic Forces, he threw “grenades at opposing fighters,” prosecutors said.
FBI agents interviewed Khalifa in March 2019, just months after his capture. He said he was motivated to travel to Syria after watching Syrian government videos and listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, the main voice of al-Qaida in English, who was killed for years. early in a drone strike.
In an August 2013 email obtained by the FBI, Khalifa revealed to a close relative that he traveled to Syria, and not Egypt, as the relative had been led to believe, to fight. “I came here to join the mujahedin who are fighting Bashar and the Syrian army,” he wrote.
The FBI said Khalifa flew to Turkey and then used a smuggler to enter Syria. He joined a battalion led by Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian activist. He received military training and participated in fighting against Syrian government forces in the Aleppo countryside. Around November 2013, he joined the Islamic State group, pledging allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. While a member of the group, he was known as “Abu Ridwan al-Kanadi” and “Abu Muthanna al-Muhajir,” the FBI said.
Khalifa believed he would be sent to an Islamic State training camp, but instead he was recruited to join the media unit. FBI said recruiting Khalifa into the media unit would mark a period of nearly five years in which he would become “a leading figure in ISIS’s English-language propaganda creation and distribution operations “.
While working for the media unit that went public with and exploited the hostage killings, Khalifa was asked in a series of Gmail talks how he could justify the beheadings and executions of aid workers, journalists and civilians. prisoners of war. The conversations took place after the gruesome execution of Foley, which ISIS filmed and broadcast, shocking the world.
Khalifa justified their treatment by saying “release them, ransom them or execute them,” according to a Gmail chat. The FBI said the statement demonstrated Khalifa’s knowledge of the “objectives, purposes and scope” of the ISIS hostage-taking program.
Khalifa was eventually captured after a brief shootout with the Syrian Democratic Forces. The FBI said that at one point it threw a grenade at the roof of a house where Syrian Democratic Forces soldiers were located.
Khalifa’s arrest is the latest example of FBI agents and federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria pursuing Islamic State terrorists and bringing them to Virginia to face charges despite the many complications associated with these types of international terrorism cases.
Last month Alexanda Kotey, 37, who was part of an Islamic State cell of four Britons called “The Beatles”, pleaded guilty to several counts, including conspiracy to carry out a seizure. hostages resulting in death; and conspiracy to assassinate American citizens outside the United States. States.
Another member of the same cell, El Shafee Elsheikh, pleaded not guilty.