Newspaper article International New York Times

News Agency Linked to ISIS Offers Scoops ; A Veneer of Objectivity from Outlet That Gets Tips Directly from the Jihadists

Newspaper article International New York Times

News Agency Linked to ISIS Offers Scoops ; A Veneer of Objectivity from Outlet That Gets Tips Directly from the Jihadists

Article excerpt

The agency, Amaq, is not officially part of the Islamic State's media apparatus, but it functions much that way.

The San Bernardino shootings. The killing rampage this week in a Baghdad mall. On Thursday, it was the explosion that ripped through a Starbucks in Jakarta.

In each of those terrorist attacks, an outlet called the Amaq News Agency was first with the news that militants of the Islamic State were going to claim responsibility. The agency has been getting the scoops because it gets tips straight from the Islamic State, and for those of us on the terrorism beat, that has made Amaq a must-read every time a bomb goes off.

It publishes a heavy stream of short releases on an encrypted phone app called Telegram, functioning much like an official news agency might inside a totalitarian state. The alerts, articles and videos take on the trappings of mainstream journalism, with "Breaking News" and "Exclusive" headings.

And its reporters try to appear objective, toning down the jihadist hyperbole the Islamic State uses in its official releases. (The Jakarta attackers were "Islamic State fighters" rather than "soldiers of the Caliphate," as the group prefers. Victims are "foreign citizens" rather than "Crusaders.")

Make no mistake, though: Amaq is putting out the Islamic State's message, and the veneer of separation between the terrorist group and what has now become its unacknowledged wire service is quickly disintegrating. Though the group is not officially part of the Islamic State's media apparatus, it functions much that way.

"It has become much more assimilated into the Islamic State's propaganda infrastructure, and now it's a fully fledged and very important part of it. It has become the first point of publication for claims of responsibility by the group -- though not as a rule," said Charlie Winter, a senior researcher at the Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative at Georgia State. He pointed out that one of the biggest attacks -- the Nov. 13 killings in Paris -- followed the more traditional route, with the claim of responsibility published directly by the Islamic State.

The Islamic State maintains its official radio station, Al Bayan, which puts out daily news bulletins, and its monthly magazine, Dabiq, as well as many production companies that put out its grisly videos. Beyond those, there are also media offices in each of the Islamic State's provinces. The material that goes out on these official outlets has the group's ultimate stamp of approval -- that's what the militants want the world to know about their ideology and their tactics.

Those messages are tightly controlled, honed to both appeal to the largest numbers of recruits as well as designed to intimidate and sow fear.

As one example of how much they control their messaging, consider what happened to the British jihadist Omar Hussain. …

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