Dec. 16, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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April 06, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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Feb. 11, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP out front on US raid where leader of Islamic State group died

combined outstanding reporting in all formats and stellar coordination between the Washington and Beirut bureaus to put AP ahead with quick, thorough, vivid on-the-ground coverage of the U.S. raid in Syria’s Idlib province that left the Islamic State group’s leader dead.Source work by AP’s Pentagon staff gave the teams in Washington and the Mideast some advance notice of the operation, and after the raid, AP was quick to the Idlib site, filing photos, video, drone footage and eyewitness accounts. AP was ahead of the competition with its alert and a solid writethrus, as well as reporting of the death toll.Beirut added a substantive biographical piece on the dead IS leader who tried to rebuild IS from its defeat, and Washington put together a compelling timeline of the raid, from planning through aftermath.Read more

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Dec. 15, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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Nov. 13, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Only on AP: In his last days, al-Baghdadi sought safety in shrinking domain

The death of the Islamic State group “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was one of the most competitive stories in the world in recent weeks. Journalists scrambled to uncover details of the U.S. operation and how the Islamic State leader ended up in a hideout in Syria.

Beirut-based Middle East reporter Sarah El Deeb put the AP out front with a story based on exclusive interviews recounting al-Baghdadi’s final days, as he was shuttled furtively around Syria by a dwindling circle of confidants. 

Enhancing the narrative were dramatic details from a teenage girl who had been enslaved by al-Baghdadi as he sought refuge. El Deeb elicited the previously untold details through sensitive and dogged reporting.

The story stood out from the many accounts that simply echoed the official account of al-Baghdadi’s death, demonstrating not only the AP’s dominance on a global story but also its trusted ability to provide facts-based reporting from the ground in the region.

For outstanding source work and reporting on a story of intense interest, Sarah El Deeb wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

 

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March 22, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Quick, resourceful response dominates coverage of Christchurch mosque attacks

AP staffers are often called the “Marines of journalism.” First in, last out.

Our small New Zealand team of Mark Baker and Nick Perry showed what that looks like as they responded to horrific mass shootings at two mosques. Their swift response securing early, definitive images and witness accounts laid the foundation for the AP’s dominant, agenda-setting coverage of the tragedy in the hours and days that followed.

Baker, the Southeast Asia photo editor known widely as “Crusty,” lives in Christchurch, where the attack happened. He heard radio reports of a possible shooting at a mosque and quickly alerted Perry, the Wellington correspondent, to get words on the wire. Baker headed immediately to the scene, where his early images of survivors became the definitive shots of the tragedy.

Back in Wellington, Perry aggressively filed on breaking developments before going to Christchurch, where he scored another major win for AP by interviewing an Afghan refugee who would be hailed as a hero for confronting the gunman, likely preventing more deaths.

Asia quickly deployed reinforcements, with cross-format teams ensuring AP kept up its advantage on the ground while colleagues from afar kept the story fresh as Asia slept.

For their quick response that showcased AP’s fundamental advantage when news breaks across the world, Baker and Perry share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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June 09, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exclusive video: Inside Borough Market during London Bridge attack

It began with a photograph showing one of the London Bridge attackers lying dead with a police officer standing over him. The Associated Press had bought it from a freelancer and now wanted to interview him. When it proved difficult to reach him by phone, AP producer Natalia Gohl friended him on Facebook and discovered something even more extraordinary: nine minutes of harrowing video of police hunting for the attackers that he streamed live during the assault.

Gohl’s discovery – the feed was private and had only a few hundred views – and the intense negotiations that followed to obtain the video led to a global exclusive. It is the Beat of the Week.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

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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