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US charges Canadian who narrated ISIS videos

Mohammed Khalifa was captured during a firefight in January 2019 in Syria. Source: NYT. 

NEW YORK: A Canadian man who fought for the Islamic State group and narrated violent propaganda videos has been taken into custody by the United States and charged for terrorism.

Saudi-born Mohammed Khalifa was captured during a firefight in January 2019 by Kurdish-dominated Syrian forces allied with the United States.  The 38-year-old was handed over recently to US authorities and charged in Virginia with conspiring to provide material support to Islamic States resulting in death, says a Justice Department statement.

Khalifa reportedly left Canada in 2013 to join the Islamic State group in Syria, and by the next year had become a key member of its propaganda team because of his fluent English and Arabic.

He allegedly served as a lead translator in Islamic State propaganda production and as the English-speaking narrator on two violent recruitment videos. The cell was behind videos showing the beheadings of foreigners including the US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who died in 2014.

Prosecutors say he was the “voice behind the violence”. They say he served as an IS fighter before translating and narrating videos. He faces a possible life sentence in the United States and could be additionally charged in Canada.

 In an exchange of emails cited in the charge sheet, Khalifa defended the killings he was associated with. “Mohammed Khalifa not only fought for ISIS on the battlefield in Syria, but he was also the voice behind the violence,” said Acting US Attorney Raj Parekh for the Eastern District of Virginia, using another acronym for the Islamic State group.

According to the indictment, Khalifa’s “primary focus” was “enticing ISIS supporters to travel to ISIS-controlled areas to join ISIS or to conduct attacks in the West, including in the United States.”

In a 2019 interview from his Syrian prison, Khalifa showed no regret for his actions. He said he wanted to return to Canada with his wife and their three children but on the condition that he would not be tried there.

“Through his alleged leading role in translating, narrating, and advancing ISIS’s online propaganda, Khalifa promoted the terrorist group, furthered its worldwide recruitment efforts, and expanded the reach of videos that glorified the horrific murders and indiscriminate cruelty of ISIS,” Parekh said.

This is the first known indictment of a foreign IS fighter in America since President Joe Biden took power in January. Two members of the notorious Islamic State kidnapping cell dubbed the “Beatles,” Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are currently in the hands of US authorities after being transferred to the United States from Iraq nearly a year ago.

The pair are accused of involvement in the murders of Foley and Sotloff, as well as those of relief workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. Kotey, a former British national who was stripped of his citizenship, pleaded guilty in early September to charges of conspiring to murder the four American hostages.