The arrest of a Syrian man in Germany may have solved a mystery that previously baffled analysts: How has an official news outlet of the Islamic State, based in far-off Syria and Iraq, been able to reveal details about attacks on Western soil not yet reported by mainstream Western news outlets?
The answer is that Amaq, the Islamic State-linked newswire, has had at least one correspondent based in Europe.
On June 8, the German federal prosecutor’s office announced the arrest of a man referred to as Mohammed G., alleging that he had served as a contact between Amaq and potential terrorists.
The arrest sheds light into how Amaq operates in some ways as an actual news outlet, rather than a pure propaganda organ, seeking for example to verify facts with sources before claiming Islamic State responsibility for a recent attack.
In October 2016, a man attacked a Shi’ite community center in Sweden, causing a fire. “One day after the attack, the accused demanded a personal acknowledgment of the action from his contact,” stated the prosecutor’s announcement. “The reason was that Amaq did not want to publish a report on the attack without such evidence.” Islamic State propaganda materials were later found at the attacker’s home, though some in Sweden dismissed the group’s claim of responsibility for the arson.
Rukmini Callimachi, the New York Times’s Islamic State correspondent, noted on Twitter that Mohammed G. may be the mysterious “source” alluded to in numerous Amaq reports:
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) June 9, 2017
The news service was founded in 2014. It operates a channel on chat app Telegram, where it regularly posts updates and breaking news. Amaq is best known for publishing Islamic State claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks, including most recently in Tehran and London.
Callimachi also emphasized that, despite the widely-held belief that the Islamic State claims any widely-publicized terrorist attack in order to make itself seem more powerful than it really is, Amaq typically does not assert responsibility without evidence and is rarely wrong — even when evidence for Islamic State involvement has not yet surfaced in the Western press.
“They are behaving like a state media,” Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group in Washington, told the New York Times last year. “ISIS sees themselves as a state, as a country — and a country needs to have its own media.”
And like any official state media outlet, it seems that Amaq has sent at least one correspondent into a foreign posting — if not more.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images