July 30 (UPI) — Mohammed Khalifa, a Saudi-born Canadian man, was sentenced to life in prison by a U.S. judge on Friday for aiding the Islamic State terrorist group and personally executing two Syrian fighters.
Khalifa, a 39-year-old man who became radicalized online and left Canada to join ISIS in Syria, held prominent roles in the terrorist organization serving as a fighter and English translator for violent ISIS videos.
He pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism resulting in death.
Khalifa was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to Canada with his family when he was five years old, later earning a degree in computer systems technology from a college in Toronto.
He began following reports of civil unrest in Syria and watching jihadi videos online in the spring of 2013, according to court documents obtained by UPI.
Khalifa wrote in a letter to the judge in January obtained by the Washington Post that he chose to leave behind a “comfortable home” and a “promising career” because of reports of attacks on Syria’s Muslim population by the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
He left Canada for ISIS in August of that year, telling a close relative in an email he left to join the “mujahideen fighting against Bashar and the Syrian army.”
“I came here to fight jihad not just to defend Syrians, but because it’s an obligation to fight the tyrants, remove them from power and establish the Shariah all with the aim of re-establishing the Islamic caliphate,” Khalifa wrote in another email that October.
He joined the Muhajireen Wal-Ansar battalion soon after entering Syria and soon afterward pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi twice, training at a facility in Aleppo until he participated in fighting against the Syrian government in a village in the Aleppo countryside.
Khalifa was recruited just months later to join the ISIS propaganda department, because of his language abilities, where he worked until late 2018.
During his time working with the ISIS media operation, he narrated and provided translation for at least 16 videos produced by ISIS about the terror group’s operations.
In one nearly hour-long video, Khalifa can be seen calling captured Syrians “soldiers of Bashar” as they dig their own graves before he is seen executing a kneeling man in the back of the head with a handgun as the man falls into the ditch.
He can also be seen executing another captured Syrian man in another video titled “Flames of War II: Until the Final Hour.”
Khalifa left media operations in January 2019 to engage in fighting and attacked soldiers with the Syrian Democratic Forces with an AK-47 and multiple grenades. He was injured by shrapnel after his weapon jammed and surrendered to SDF soldiers.
He was transferred to the custody of the United States in September 2021 and arrived in Virginia in October 2021.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III described Khalifa as “the Pied Piper who played the tune” while prosecutors said his videos were “instrumental” in helping ISIS recruit between 40,000 to 60,000 foreign fighters to Syria.