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Feds Charge Narrator Of Infamous English-Language Islamic State Propaganda Videos

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 2, 2021

Topline

U.S. authorities charged a Canadian citizen with translating and narrating a series of English-language Islamic State propaganda videos, part of the terrorist group’s push to recruit foreign fighters and sympathizers, the Department of Justice said Saturday.

Key Facts

A February criminal complaint accusing 38-year-old Mohammed Khalifa—a Saudi-born Canadian citizen—of providing material support for the Islamic State (also known as IS or ISIS) was unsealed in a Virginia federal court Saturday, according to the DOJ.

Federal officials alleged Khalifa arrived in Syria in 2013 and joined an anti-Syrian government group that later aligned with IS, telling a relative via email he “came here to join the mujahideen fighting against [President Bashar al-Assad] and the Syrian army.”

Instead of sending him to a training camp, IS assigned Khalifa to its media bureau in 2014, partly due to his proficiency in Arabic and English, the criminal complaint alleged.

Khalifa served as an IS translator and narrated several of the group’s English-language recruitment videos, including two “influential and exceedingly violent” propaganda films that depicted IS operatives killing prisoners, the DOJ said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces—a U.S.-aligned militia group operating across wide swaths of eastern Syria—captured Khalifa after he participated in a fight against the organization in early 2019, and he was “recently” transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s custody, according to a DOJ press release.

Surprising Fact

Khalifa spoke with the New York Times shortly after his 2019 capture. He said he doesn’t regret narrating an infamous 55-minute English recruitment video for IS, but he cast himself as a relatively low-level IS member, claiming he was “just the voice” and didn’t conceptualize or film any of the violent scenes depicted in the video. Federal officials disputed this characterization Saturday, insisting Khalifa was a significant IS operative.

Contra

“At various points, Khalifa has made claims to Western media outlets that he was a simple translator and rank and file member of ISIS’s media establishment,” the DOJ’s criminal complaint read. “However, FBI investigation has determined Khalifa played an important role in the production and dissemination of ISIS propaganda across multiple mediums targeting western audiences.”

Key Background

An offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, IS’ roots date back more than a decade, but it earned international attention and scorn in 2013 and 2014, when the group’s fighters exploited power vacuums in Iraq and Syria to capture wide swaths of both countries. IS was known for its radical religious beliefs, its brutal hardline tactics in war and governance, and its deceased leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ambition of establishing a global Islamic caliphate. The group attracted some operatives and supporters from the United States and other Western countries, aided by a surge of foreign fighters participating in the Syrian Civil War and an extensive online recruitment campaign that purportedly included Khalifa’s videos.

Tangent

IS has lost most of its territory in recent years, following intense pushback aided by American, Iraqi, Kurdish and Iranian forces. Still, U.S. authorities have continued to pursue IS members. Last year, the DOJ charged two people who allegedly belonged to a four-member IS cell made up of British citizens—a group nicknamed “the Beatles”—with participating in hostage-taking efforts in Syria, one of whom pleaded guilty last month.

Further Reading

The English Voice of ISIS Comes Out of the Shadows (New York Times)

What Happens When Americans Who Joined ISIS Want To Come Home (NPR)

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