The narrator on a string of Islamic State Group videos who executed prisoners of war, Mohammed Khalifa, 40, will spend the rest of his life in a US prison. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.
The English-language mouthpiece for the Islamic State terror group who vowed to destroy America will die in a US prison.
On Friday, July 29, in Alexandria, Virginia, Senior US District Judge Thomas Selby Ellis III sentenced Mohammed Khalifa, 40, to life behind bars, plus 20 years, for inspiring and providing material support to the Islamic State group, acts that resulted in people's deaths at the hands of the terror network.
Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Canada, Khalifa — also known as Abu Ridwan Al-Kanadi and Abu Muthanna Al-Muhajir — was captured by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces after a shootout in 2019 and turned over to the FBI nearly two years later.
Khalifa inked a plea deal with federal prosecutors on Dec. 10, 2021. A joint filing by four of those prosecutors — First Assistant US Attorney John T. Gibbs and Assistant US Attorneys Dennis M. Fitzpatrick, Raj Parekh, and Aidan Taft Grano-Mickelsen — traced his butchery across nearly six years of war inside Syria and concluded he embodied “the existential threat the Islamic State posed to the West.”
“The Islamic State’s coordinated and purposeful effort to distribute violent propaganda through its social media ecosystem revolutionized terrorism recruitment by falsely glorifying the rationale of the terrorist organization,” the filing reads. “The public should not be misled to understand that the conduct of the defendant or any other member of the Islamic State was rooted in warfare or other geopolitical conflict. The defendant served in a leadership position within the Islamic State, where he and the terrorist organization engaged in a prolonged pattern of grotesque and violent activity.”
A former mouthpiece for the Islamic State Group, Mohammed Khalifa, 40, was sentenced on Friday, July 29, 2022, to spend the rest of his life behind bars. US Department of Justice screenshot of an Islamic State Group video.
Khalifa entered Syria in 2013 and joined a jihadi battalion waging war against the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship near Aleppo and was recruited to the IS propaganda wing in early 2014, a role he would remain in through late 2018.
Because of his fluency in English and Arabic, Khalifa excelled as a narrator on a string of videos. Federal investigators suspect he helped produce at least 15 of them, most of which attempted to recruit fighters to the IS cause.
The reels became increasingly sophisticated, with Hollywood-style effects and slick camera work. A late 2014 documentary he narrated, Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun, ended with a masked Khalifa telling the camera that the Syrian soldiers near him were “digging their own graves.”
Khalifa walks behind one of the kneeling prisoners and executes him with a pistol blast to the back of the head. The detainee topples into a grave alongside other government troops simultaneously executed by other Islamic State group terrorists.
The narrator in a string of Islamic State Group videos that glamorized jihadi terrorism, Mohammed Khalifa, 40, was sentenced on Friday, July 29, 2022, to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Still from an Islamic State Group video.
In a 2017 video, Flames of War II: Until the Final Hour, Khalifa tells viewers the US-led bombing campaign against ISIS had failed, and he vowed the “ravenous flames” from the carnage were “making their way to the lands of the crusaders.”
A map showing IS-inspired attacks on Western nations included five US targets in Texas, Las Vegas, Orlando, New York, and San Bernardino, California.
In Arabic, head IS spokesperson Shaykh Abdul-Hasan al-Muhajir says in Arabic, “So die in your rage, America. Die in your rage.”
The film ends with a masked Khalifa executing another bound Syrian army prisoner of war with a gunshot to the head.
Khalifa surrendered to Syrian Democratic Forces on Jan. 13, 2019. He’d been wounded by shrapnel in Abu Badran after he attacked a building with grenades and an AK-47 rifle, which jammed during the firefight.
Along with two other IS terrorists, he was handed over to FBI agents 32 months later. They extradited Khalifa to Virginia on Oct. 1, 2021.
The narrator in a string of Islamic State Group videos that glamorized jihadi terrorism, Mohammed Khalifa, 40, was sentenced on Friday, July 29, 2022, to life behind bars. US Department of Justice photo.
With Khalifa’s guilt cemented by his plea agreement, over the past nine months his legal team and prosecutors have sparred over how long he’d stay in prison. Authorities asked for a life sentence. Khalifa’s legal team sought 20 years behind bars.
His attorneys argued that Khalifa had repudiated violence after his capture in Syria, where he’d been repeatedly tortured.
Unlike the other two ISIS insurgents, he wasn’t a “horrific, sociopathic” criminal and had cooperated with US investigators, his attorneys argued. In fact, he’d even made a “counter narrative” set of videos “in the hopes he could persuade others to turn away from ISIS in the future and not repeat the mistakes that he made,” they wrote.
Khalifa’s attorneys didn’t respond to Coffee or Die Magazine’s messages seeking comment.
In a jailhouse letter written to the judge on Jan. 16, 2022, however, Khalifa tried to make sense of how he ended up in Alexandria’s William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center while his wife, Aisha, and children languished in a Syrian refugee camp.
A Syrian Democratic Forces fighter carries a book on Islamic criminal legislation said to have belonged to Islamic State Group jihadis, recovered in the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz on March 13, 2020, a year after the fall of the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate. Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images.
Khalifa said he became radicalized in 2013 while watching YouTube videos detailing the suffering of Syrian citizens in the Middle Eastern country’s bloody civil war, and he vowed to become a foreign fighter to protect them.
Khalifa told the judge that his sister pleaded with him to work for a humanitarian aid organization instead of joining the jihadis, but he persisted in entering Syria as a combatant.
She disowned him.
“I’m aware that the US justice system affords chances and opportunities to those who truly wish to reform, including those of us who made tremendous sacrifices and started off with the best of intentions but wound up taking a wrong turn and have made a concerted effort to correct their course,” he wrote. “I’m asking you today to have confidence in me and to give me another chance.”
The judge ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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