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Canadian who became ‘voice of ISIS’ pleads guilty, admits he conducted executions

Click to play video: 'Question for feds as U.S. authorities detain Canadian ISIS fighter' Question for feds as U.S. authorities detain Canadian ISIS fighter
WATCH: Canadian Mohammad Khalifa is facing trial in the United States, after the FBI detained the former Toronto IT worker and charged him with a terror-related offence for his role in supporting the so-called Islamic State. David Akin explains why experts say the case is hurting Canada's reputation, as it faces criticism for not repatriating other Canadians who fought for ISIS. – Oct 3, 2021

A Toronto man known as the voice of ISIS pleaded guilty to terrorism on Friday, admitting in a U.S. court he executed two Syrian soldiers.

Mohammed Khalifa faces a possible life sentence after pleading guilty to providing material resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Justice said the 38-year-old Canadian had confessed to conducting executions for ISIS on two occasions.

The killings were shown in the ISIS propaganda videos Flames of War and Flames of War 2, which Khalifa narrated, according to the statement.

Also known as Abu Ridwan Al-Kanadi, Khalifa was captured in Syria in 2019, but the Canadian government has refused to repatriate Canadian ISIS members to stand trial.

Instead, the FBI took custody of him from Kurdish fighters in October and brought him to Virginia to face charges.

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Read more: Canadian ISIS member caught in Syria flown to U.S. to face terrorism charges

The former Toronto IT worker is the most senior Canadian ISIS figure to face justice in court to date. He served “prominent roles” in ISIS between 2013 and 2019, the U.S. justice department said.

“In addition to serving as a fighter and executing two Syrian soldiers on behalf of ISIS, Khalifa served as a lead translator in ISIS’s propaganda production and the English-speaking narrator on multiple ISIS videos,” it said.

Khalifa first attracted notice in 2014, when ISIS released an execution video narrated in a distinctly Canadian accent. The same voice was later heard in ISIS propaganda claiming responsibility for attacks in Paris and the United States.

The RCMP launched an investigation in 2017, after the U.S. military found documents in Raqqah, Syria that identified him by his nom de guerre.

The case was dropped because the RCMP could not determine his identity, but it resumed after he was captured during the collapse of ISIS in Syria in January 2019.

An image of Mohammed Khalifa, taken from an ISIS execution video, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

To verify that he was the long-sought voice of ISIS, the RCMP interviewed his family in Toronto and had a forensic audio expert compare his voice with the one heard in ISIS propaganda. The voices were deemed identical.

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The RCMP also seized the recordings of an interview Global News conducted with Khalifa in Syria. In the interview, Khalifa confirmed he had voiced the video and audio releases while working for the ISIS media department.

While Global News fought the seizure of its research materials in court, arguing RCMP investigators could interview Khalifa themselves, an Ontario judge ruled that Syria was too dangerous for police.

“I am not satisfied that the local government and security forces could protect them,” the judge wrote, ordering Global News to hand over its recordings.

Read more: RCMP preparing charges against Toronto IT worker who became ‘voice of ISIS,’ document reveals

Image of Mohammed Khalifa, left, taken from ISIS execution video, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Despite the RCMP investigation, two-and-a-half years after Khalifa’s capture, Canada had taken no steps to return him home to face charges and the U.S. instead took over the case.

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According to the U.S. Justice Department’s statement, Khalifa admitted not only to narrating 15 ISIS videos, but also to taking part in the killings they depicted.

Two of the videos “include scenes of Khalifa executing a different Syrian soldier,” the statement said.

In the videos, Khalifa wore a mask as he spoke to the camera, the U.S. prosecutors said. He “is then seen executing a kneeling Syrian soldier while other masked ISIS members also shoot the prisoners kneeling in front of each of them.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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