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ISIS propagandist pleads guilty to aiding terrorist group

A Canadian citizen who traveled to Syria to join ISIS nearly a decade ago pleaded guilty Friday to serving as one of the organization’s more prominent English-language propagandists.

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Mohammed Khalifa, 38, pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, resulting in death, at a hearing in US District Court in Alexandria. US District Judge T.S. Ellis III accepted the plea.

According to court records, Khalifa left Canada for Syria in 2013 after being inspired by the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US cleric who later became a leading figure in al-Qaeda.

Prosecutors said Khalifa narrated two notorious ISIS propaganda videos — “Flames of War” in 2014 and “Flames of War II” in 2017 — designed to recruit Westerners to join ISIS to kill Westerners as part of an international holy war campaign.

Khalifa also fought on the battlefield, according to prosecutors. He was captured by Syrian Defense Forces in 2019 and held overseas until he was brought to Virginia earlier this year to face charges.

According to an FBI affidavit, Khalifa told FBI agents he expected to be sent to an ISIS training camp when he joined the organization in late 2013. Instead, he was recruited to join the organization’s media department because of his English language skills and spent nearly five years as a leader in their English-language propaganda unit, it said.

The affidavit said Khalifa narrated numerous videos besides “Flames of War” and its sequel, which show prisoners being executed and decapitated. In another video, titled “Inside the Khilafah,” Khalifa urges listeners, if they aren’t able to travel to Syria to join ISIS to instead “terrorize the disbelievers with your jihad outside the khilafah by targeting them and shedding their blood.”

Khalifa told agents he was captured in January 2019 when he defied an ISIS order to flee from advancing forces in Shafaa, Syria. Instead, he said, he launched a solo attack of sorts on Syrian Defense Forces, surrendering after his AK-47 rifle jammed.

In a news release announcing the guilty plea, federal prosecutors said the “Flames of War” videos include scenes of a masked Khalifa executing a different Syrian soldier in each of the two videos — while other masked ISIS members also shoot the prisoners kneeling in front of each of them.

Khalifa is scheduled to be sentenced on April 15. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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South Africa records two imported cholera cases


South Africa has recorded two confirmed imported cases of cholera, the health department said on Sunday, as it called for vigilance.

The cases were of sisters who had in January travelled to Malawi, where a cholera outbreak since last year has claimed more than 1,000 lives as of January, the highest on record in the country.

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“Both patients had developed symptoms on their return to Johannesburg,” the health department said in a statement.

“A close contact (household family member) of one of the patients was admitted to hospital on 4 February with diarrhea and dehydration, and is considered a possible case,” it said, adding laboratory test results were pending.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae and can be deadly if left untreated. It is mainly spread by contaminated food and water.

Cholera is not endemic in South Africa, the health department said. The last outbreak in the country was in 2008/2009 when about 12,000 cases were reported following an outbreak in neighboring Zimbabwe which led to a surge of imported cases and subsequent local transmission.

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Iran ex-President Khatami, former PM Mousavi call for political change amid protests


Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami and former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for political changes amid the protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

As the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution approaches, one of the country’s main opposition figures, Mousavi, called on Saturday for the “fundamental transformation” of a political system he said was facing a crisis of legitimacy.

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And on Sunday, Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, in a statement said: “What is evident today is widespread discontent.”

Khatami said he hoped that the use of “non-violent civil methods” can “force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms.”

In a statement carried by local media, Mousavi said: “Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement.”

He was referring to the main slogan chanted in demonstrations sparked by the death on September 16 of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd.

She had been arrested by the morality police in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women.

Mousavi, 80, said the protest movement began in the context of “interdependent crises” and proposed holding a “free and healthy referendum on the need to change or draft a new constitution.”

He called the current system’s structure “unsustainable.”

An unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2009, Mousavi alleged large-scale fraud in favor of populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leading to mass protests.

He has been under house arrest without charge in Tehran for 12 years, along with his wife Zahra Rahnavard.

A close confidant of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, Mousavi was prime minister from 1981 to 1989.

“People have the right to make fundamental revisions in order to overcome crises and pave the way for freedom, justice, democracy and development,” Mousavi said in his statement.

“The refusal to take the smallest step towards realizing the rights of citizens as defined in the constitution… has discouraged the community from carrying out reforms.”

Khatami, 79, made similar remarks, warning that “there is no sign of the ruling system’s desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present.”

President from 1997 to 2005 before being forced into silence, Khatami said he regretted that Iran’s population was “disappointed with Reformism as well as with the ruling system.”

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Audit underway after corruption scandals in Ukraine: Defense minister


Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Sunday that an audit of procurement contracts was underway after corruption scandals but declined to confirm reports that he could soon be forced to resign.

“We have started an internal audit” of all procurement contracts, Reznikov told reporters, but declined to say if he would stay on as defense minister.

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“It is one person — the commander-in-chief, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who decides whether I will be defense minister or not,” he said.

“My specialization as a lawyer allows me to think optimistically that I will definitely find an interesting project for myself that will allow us not only to win the war, but also to punish the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation later,” he added.

The Ukrainska Pravda news website, citing unidentified sources, reported that Reznikov, 56, could next week be replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, the 37-year-old head of military intelligence.

Reznikov, who studied law, might be appointed justice minister, Ukrainska Pravda said.

One of the best-known faces of Ukraine’s war effort, Reznikov was appointed defense minister in November 2021 and has been overseeing the armed forces throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 last year.

He has also helped secure Western weapons to buttress Ukrainian forces.

But his ministry has lately been beset by corruption scandals, and defense officials were among a dozen figures forced to resign last month in the biggest political shakeup in Ukraine since the launch of Moscow’s assault.

Reznikov’s deputy Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who worked on providing logistical support for the army, resigned after the defense ministry was accused of signing food contracts at prices two to three times higher than current rates for basic foodstuffs.

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