A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has sentenced Mohammed Khalifa, a Canadian born in Saudi Arabia, to life in prison for his involvement with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a media figure and foreign fighter.
Khalifa pleaded guilty in December 2021 to “conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization” that resulted in death. A Canadian citizen, Khalifa traveled to Syria in 2013 and swore allegiance to then-ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Khalifa was recruited to ISIS’s media department in 2014, where he worked until 2018. During this time, he served as the lead English narrator and translator for as many as 15 ISIS propaganda videos. In two of the most brutal ISIS videos, Khalifa is masked and standing over two Syrian soldiers, one in each of the two videos, kneeling in a grave Khalifa forced him to dig. After speaking to the camera, Khalifa executed the two soldiers while other masked ISIS members shot the rest of the prisoners, who were kneeling similarly. Khalifa surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2019 after a failed attack against it. The SDF delivered him to the FBI for criminal charges.
The US government asked for a life sentence because terrorist propaganda “increase[s] the frequency and intensity of violent events, promote[s] anti-democratic values, instill[s] fear, and divide[s] populations and governments.” The defense, however, asked for a sentence of 20 years in prison, noting that Khalifa was married, had three children and did not kill US citizens. Judge T.S. Ellis III Friday found a life sentence to be appropriate as the statute Khalifa was charged under does not require victims to be US citizens.