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

People gather at heavily damaged house in the Syrian village of Atmeh in Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 3, 2022, the morning after a raid by the U.S. military that reportedly left 13 people dead, including Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, leader of the Islamic State group. U.S. officials said al Qurayshi (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

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Outstanding reporting in all formats and stellar coordination between the Washington and Beirut bureaus put AP ahead with quick, thorough on-the-ground coverage of the U.S. raid in Syria’s Idlib province that left the Islamic State group’s leader dead.

The first hints of the mission came days earlier when national security/Pentagon reporter Lolita Baldor picked up signals that something was developing — perhaps later in the week according to one source. Persistent questioning led to further details. Baldor started compiling background and alerted a very small number of people, including Beirut’s Zeina Karam, news director for Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, so that they could move quickly, especially if the Washington bureau was not fully staffed when the news broke.

In Idlib after midnight on the night of the operation, AP stringer Ghaith al-Sayed’s phone began to alert him of low-flying U.S. choppers, then a commando operation unfolding in the town of Atmeh. He stayed up but held back on traveling to the scene, fearing that any approaching vehicles would be targeted. He headed toward the targeted area at 6 a.m., immediately alerting the team in Beirut when he had reached the scene.

Over the next couple of hours, he juggled video and photos, took drone footage of the targeted building and gathered eyewitness accounts, sending them to the Beirut team via audio messages. His descriptions of the house and its contents were thorough, rich and put the AP ahead with vivid reporting. He left the scene to file his visuals, then returned to get on-camera reactions and more aftermath.

In Beirut,Mideast correspondent Bassem Mroue worked his sources to keep AP ahead on the death toll. AP was 20 minutes ahead of the competition in alerting that 13 people,including children,were reported dead. Mroue also quickly retooled an existing bio of the IS leader,known as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi,his nom de guerre, turning it into a compelling read about the shadowy man who tried to rebuild IS from its defeat.

White House reporter Zeke Miller took custody of the main story not long after daybreak in Washington,when President Joe Biden announced that al-Qurayshi had been killed. Miller’s alert went out well ahead of the competition, as did a fulsome writethru of the mainbar,thanks to solid preparedness copy from Baldor. Miller kept the alerts and sharp writethrus coming at rapid speed as developments unfolded throughout the day.

Washington’s Cal Woodward,with contributions from reporters on both sides of the globe, wove together the details for a compelling overnight timeline piece looking at how the planning,execution and aftermath of the plan came together. The coverage,including video and photo edits, earned top usage among AP customers last week.

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