Best of AP — First Winner


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

Alexanda Amon Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh, who were allegedly among four British jihadis who made up a brutal Islamic State cell dubbed "The Beatles," read a news article about themselves during an interview with AP at a security center in Kobani, Syria, March 30, 2018. Their terror cell is believed to have captured, tortured and killed hostages including American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers. (AP Photo / Hussein Malla)


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 about the group.

So it was big news and a major scoop for the AP when an all-formats team in Lebanon 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. For their efforts, they earn the Beat of the Week.

It started with El Deeb having a late-night meeting over tea with a source in which she pressed for access to foreign fighters detained by Kurdish forces in Syria. That ultimately led to the AP getting access to the detainees,who 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 was a major scoop that generated huge interest and dominated headlines,particularly in Britain. It also triggered an outpouring of accolades online and from clients including major UK client ITN as well as numerous interview requests from the BBC (TV and Radio),Sky News and others. The interview and images were widely picked up in print, online and broadcast.

In the interview,the two men did not admit to any specific acts and were unapologetic,denouncing the U.S. and Britain as “hypocrites” who will not give them a fair trial.

The AP meanwhile got in touch in the United States with the mother of their best-known alleged victim,freelance journalist James Foley. Interviewed at a St. Louis airport,she called on the U.S. government and the international community to hold the men accountable “in an open trial where we can face them,and they can hear all the pain and suffering they’ve inflicted on the world.”

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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