35-year-old Mohammed Khalifa joined the terrorists in 2013, inspired by videos on YouTube.
In October 2014, the FBI asked for help to identify the person who voiced the propaganda videos of the IG terrorist organization in English. The intelligence services believed that it was the efforts of this speaker that the terrorists reached the English-speaking audience all over the world, including the United States.
February 17, 2019 The New York Times newspaper found a man who admitted in dubbing clips for IG into English. The 35-year-old Mohammed Khalifa (Mohammed Khalifa) moved to Canada in his childhood, studied at a college in Toronto, and worked in the field of information technology. He successfully collaborated with the IG throughout the war, but during the January battle surrendered to the Syrian opposition. Now, most likely, he faces a prison sentence in Syria, because the Canadian authorities have not yet shown any interest in him.
According to Khalifa, he was an ordinary employee of the Islamic State’s media ministry, which is responsible for publishing propaganda clips and executions. It was this agency that spread the records of the murder of the American journalist James Foley and the burning of the Jordanian pilot. “No, I do not regret. During the interrogation, they asked me about it, I said the same thing, ”Khalifa explained in an interview with the NYT.
The man was born in Saudi Arabia, but as a child he moved to Toronto and received Canadian citizenship. Immigration at an early age contributed to the study of English, so that the Caliph speaks almost like a native speaker. Prior to working with terrorists, he worked at an IT company, and went to Syria after watching videos of battles with IG on YouTube.
Experts in the study of terrorism believe that the work of Khalifa played an important role in bringing propaganda to the native speakers of the English language and bringing them to their work. “His voice is the most recognizable of the English-speaking people who have ever met in the IG propaganda,” said Charlie Vinter, senior researcher at the International Center for the Study of Extremism.
It was the Caliph who sounded the terrorist flame film “Flame of War”, released in 2014. Due to the abundance of cruelty and scenes of execution of Syrian hostages, this picture is considered the most famous example of propaganda of ISIS. Three audio forensic experts told NYT that the voice in the video was more likely to belong to Caliph. Later this was confirmed by the US authorities.
“The Flame of War” came out on September 19, 2014, when the IS forces had just launched a wave of attacks. Prior to this, the militants published short and less remarkable videos, but this time they prepared. Part of the 55-minute film was recorded on the GoPro-camera of the fighter group for the greatest immersion. The viewer was shown how a soldier was digging a trench before the operation, observing the territory and “victoriously” destroying the enemy.
Thanks to the English voice acting, the film attracted the attention of the first recruits from Australia, Great Britain and North America. And for Khalifa, this was the beginning of a long career. In total, he participated in the production of several dozens of propaganda projects.
A Canadian IS foreign fighter captured by the SDF in the Hajin pocket turned out to be Abu Ridwan al-Kanadi, narrator of al-Hayat’s “Flames of War” series & other English-language IS videos. I made a video with his voice from an interview and audio excerpts of videos he narrated pic.twitter.com/qQQhhZZ25L
— Hugo Kaaman (@HKaaman) 18 January 2019
Khalifa is among the hundreds of IS militants trapped in a prison in northern Syria. While working with terrorists, he married and had two children, but does not know what happened to them after his arrest. More than a month has passed since the detention, but none of the representatives of the Canadian government came to the man and offered help.
Like many other countries, Canada is wary of the repatriation of its citizens from Syria or Iraq. This is because it is often difficult in court to prove the guilt of a person in complicity with terrorism. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police refused to comment on the man’s arrest, as did the FBI.
One of the first who became interested in the origin of the English-speaking narrator of the IG, was the Toronto scholar of radicalization Amarnath Amarasingam. “He is a symbol, the voice of the IG, the last five years speaking with the English-speaking world,” – the man said.
While watching a propaganda video about the terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, Amarasingham was noticed by a familiar Canadian accent from a man behind the scenes. “I thought this man sounds like the people I grew up with.”
Amarasingam later went to Syria to meet with a captured militant named Mohammed Ali. He made friends with the speaker IG, describing him as a Canadian of African descent under the pseudonym Abu Ridwan. When the NYT journalist turned on the man’s voice recording, Ali immediately identified him as his friend.
When a Canadian was arrested, he immediately pleaded guilty to the attack on the soldiers of the Syrian opposition, but did not disclose his role in the propaganda machine of the IS. The Caliph spoke to journalists with two guards who recorded the dialogue, but did not interfere. In a conversation, he sought to diminish his significance for terrorists and insisted that he did not appear in any spots with executions, engaging only in off-screen narration.
Five years of war
Caliph was born in the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia with parents of Ethiopian descent. In Toronto, he received a degree in Computer Systems Technology from Seneca College and worked for Kelly Services, a contractor for the American major IBM software maker. In 2013, a man began to listen to online lectures by radical Islamic preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. This ideologist of al-Qaida terrorists died in 2013, after which his lectures began to enjoy additional popularity on the Internet.
Convinced of the need for a “holy war”, the Canadian continued to search the network for videos of radical Islamists. One day he came across YouTube on a video where a group of militants spoke English during an operation in Syria. This made Khalifa understand that he would find companions for himself. In the same year, he crossed the Syrian border and became acquainted with a group led by Georgian militant Omar al-Shishani, who later became war minister in the IG.
According to Khalifa, he began to cooperate with the “Ministry of Propaganda” even before 2014, when the terrorists announced the creation of a “caliphate”. Initially, he was taken to the position of translator from Arabic to English, after which he was offered the role of announcer. The head of his unit was the authorized representative of the leader of the IG Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This indicates the attention paid by the radicals to the quality of propaganda.
The chief demanded that various executioners be present on the video with the executions, so that none of them felt themselves more exclusive than the others. According to Khalifa, the camera crew sought out suitable people for the video, traveling through the “caliphate”. They sought to find militants of different nationalities to emphasize the diversity of the group. “The challenge was not to create stars,” explains the Canadian.
The film crew prepared the execution script, and used cameras, GoPro cameras and drones for recording. The data was then loaded onto an SD card and delivered to the office, which was located in a villa by the Euphrates River about 20 kilometers from the city of Rakka (considered the capital of the IG). There the recording was mounted, special effects were added and the narrator was provided with a voice-over.
Khalifa claims that he did not take part in the recording of scenes that are voiced. Sometimes they assumed that the camera would go under water in order to capture how the victim was drowning. “I was only a voice,” the Canadian insists. According to him, he was given the text of the script, which he looked for errors, and then read the text under the record.
Initially, a professional studio with soundproof walls was used for recording. To work with sound, the professional program Magix Samplitude was used, and the final version of the video was broadcast via a portable satellite dish.
After the American air strike at the end of 2014, the workflow was moved to Rakka. Companions of terrorists periodically moved the studio between residential buildings, hoping that proximity to civilians would protect them from air strikes.
With the loss of their positions, the IG team left Rakka, but continued to work, relying on a satellite dish. A few weeks before Khalif was apprehended, there were 20 people in the group of media specialists. “People I knew agreed to work outside the home. They were still risking, ”says the Canadian.
By the time of the clash with the Syrian opposition, he had already left his post and armed himself. During one of the shootings, the man was left alone and was wounded, after which he did what he said he had never thought about. “I was exhausted. Cartridges are over. They continued to urge me to surrender, and finally I dropped the weapon. ”