May 17, 2018

Best of the Week

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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April 06, 2018

Best of the Week

Lebanon-based team first to interview Islamic State detainees in Syria

An Islamic State cell notorious for beheading western hostages has become a major story line surrounding the terror group and its murderous onslaught in Syria. The arrest of members of the four-person cell – nicknamed “the Beatles” because of their British accents – led to heightened interest among readers and AP clients.

So it was big news and a major scoop for the AP when an all-formats team made up of reporter Sarah El Deeb, video journalist Andrea Rosa and photographer Hussein Malla obtained the first interview of two men identified as surviving members of the infamous cell.

El Deeb had been working a source for access to foreign fighters detained by Kurdish forces in Syria. When AP finally received access, the detainees were at first reluctant to talk on the record. The Lebanon-based team kept pressing, and ultimately got them to agree to an audio interview, with photos. The interview generated huge interest and dominated headlines, particularly in Britain.

For pushing to make AP the first news organization to interview two suspects alleged to have participated in some of the Islamic State’s group’s most notorious crimes, the team of El Deeb, Rosa and Malla share this week’s Beat of the Week award.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the Week

AP analysis: At least 19,000 in Iraq detained for terrorism, thousands sentenced to death

Prisons in Iraq held thousands of Islamic State group militants, but few outside the government knew exactly how many. Baghdad-based reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra set out to find out – and he wasn’t going to take a rough estimate for an answer.

With Baghdad correspondent Susannah George and Mideast enterprise editor Lee Keath, Abdul-Zahara analyzed documents he obtained from a Justice Ministry official, finding that the government was holding at least 19,000 people accused of ISIS connections or other terror-related offenses and that more than 3,000 of them had been sentenced to death.

For intrepid source work and analysis to establish the facts around the imprisonment of thousands of Islamic State group militants in Iraq, Abdul-Zahra, George and Keath win Beat of the Week.

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Dec. 15, 2017

Best of the Week

AP reveals identity of secret blogger known as Mosul Eye

He was known as Mosul Eye, a blogger who for years was one of the world’s main sources of news about Islamic State atrocities in his hometown of Mosul, Iraq. But the burden of anonymity was growing too heavy for him to bear.

He mentioned wistfully in messages to reporters Lori Hinnant and Maggie Michael that he missed his own name. Hinnant suggested he might want to think about revealing his identity, but let the subject drop. He agonized over when and how he would reveal it.

The when, it turns out, was Nov. 15, 2017. The how was in an interview to The Associated Press.

For bringing the world the story of Omar Mohammed, the mysterious historian-turned-blogger who risked his life to expose the horrors of Islamic State rule in Mosul, Hinnant and Michael win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Oct. 27, 2017

Best of the Week

Raqqa drone video reveals shocking devastation

The scene is dreamlike – or, more precisely, nightmarish. The untethered camera swoops and swerves through a depopulated wasteland of rubble and bombed-out buildings and wrecked vehicles.

This is Raqqa, devastated capital of the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. And this extraordinary footage – the Beat of the Week – was brought to viewers around the world by freelance drone videographer Gabriel Chaim. He shares the prize with Mideast photo editor Maya Alleruzzo.

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Dec. 16, 2016

Best of the Week

Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

What AP’s Lori Hinnant knew, from a conversation with Beirut bureau chief Zeina Karam early this year, amounted to a fascinating mystery: A series of Syrian villages had been emptied and many of their people taken hostage by the Islamic State group, but now most appeared to be free. It was clear that ransoms were paid, but no one would talk about how it happened.

The hostages were more than 200 Assyrian Christians who were rescued through a fundraising effort among the vanishing people’s global diaspora that brought in millions of dollars. These were the broad outlines of the story that Hinnant’s months of reporting confirmed, but even better were the exclusive details she unearthed _ including IS sending one villager with a ransom note to his bishop, the church dinners and concerts held around the world for donations, and the decision, fraught with ethical qualms and legal risks, to pay a ransom.

Hinnant’s resulting “thriller,” as one admirer called it, is the Beat of the Week.

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