A Saudi-born Canadian citizen who was radicalized online and moved to Syria to join the Islamic State, rising to the top of the terrorist group's English-language propaganda arm, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday, after he admitted to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, resulting in death.
Prosecutors claim that Mohammed Khalifa, 39, narrated over 15 propaganda movies for the Islamic State in English, released in September 2014 and November 201, some of which were among its most well-known and brutal productions. Khalifa also played a prominent part.
The closing portions of two documentary-length Islamic State videos, "Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun" and "Flames of War II: Until the Final Hour," includes scenes of Khalifa executing a different Syrian soldier who had been made to dig their own graves in each of the two videos.
A masked Khalifa addresses the camera before killing a kneeling Syrian soldier at the end of both videos, as other masked ISIS members shoot the detainees who were also kneeling in front of them.
Khalifa admitted guilt in December to planning to finance terrorism that would result in fatalities. Life in jail as the maximum punishment was requested by the prosecution. Khalifa's lawyers had asked for a 20-year term, pointing out that he had murdered two Syrian soldiers but no Americans and that he was a married man with three kids. In the statute's text, Khalifa was not required to have American citizens among the deceased.
Khalifa, according to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, was "the Pied Piper who played the song," allowing the Islamic State to spread its murderous propaganda to English-speaking people in the United States and Europe.
Federal prosecutors deemed it successful. They claimed that while the Islamic State was fighting for control of certain regions of Syria, it attracted 40,000–60,000 foreign fighters, and Khalifa was a key player in providing English-language material for movies, audio messages, and an online magazine.
Ellis said Khalifa’s sentence “has to stand as a warning, as a beacon, to others.”
“Don’t become the recruiting tool for ISIS or any other terrorist organization,” the judge said.
Khalifa claimed in court documents that he was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Canada, attended college in Toronto, and earned a degree in computer systems technology. During the Arab Spring, he began watching online videos that eventually brought him to Syria, particularly the speeches of the al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki.
He admitted to joining the Islamic State in 2013 and was apprehended in 2019 following a firefight with the Syrian Democratic Forces. He twice swore a combat oath to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. After Islamic State leaders issued an order to flee, he sought and received a "fatwa," or religious dispensation, to fight the US-backed SDF in Abu Badran, Syria.
Khalifa called Omar Mateen, the shooter responsible for the 2019 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., "our brother" and noted that it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11.
In online communications, Khalifa referred to journalists and humanitarian workers being targeted by the Islamic State as "disbelievers" with whom the militant group "had no covenant." Prosecutors claim that Khalifa called the victims at the homosexual bar "filthy crusaders" and "sodomites."
Federal prosecutors stated in a sentencing brief that "the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, exploited media and propaganda masterfully as part of its campaign of terror during the 2013-2018 time period." During the rise of the terrorist group, Khalifa "acted as one of the Islamic State's most prolific propagandists" and "personally engaged in severe acts of violence to achieve the goals of ISIS."
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