Rukmini Callimachi Profile picture
May 25, 2018 32 tweets 14 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
1. Hello everyone, yesterday Ch 6 of the #Caliphate podcast went live, detailing how we fact-checked Abu Huzayfah's story. At least 15 @nytimes reporters, stringers and translators worked to bring you that one episode. Follow along for the back story:…
2. By now, you've heard the detailed account of murder by one Canadian member of ISIS. As many of you have asked, why in the world would this young man admit to such crimes in an interview with the @nytimes? I'm finally able to reveal that we began speaking to him 1.5 yrs ago
3. @AndyMillsNYT & I first learned of Abu Huzayfah in November 2016. He had left Syria over a year before that & had successfully traveled back and forth to Canada and his grandparent's home in Pakistan. Because no one stopped him at the airport, he assumed he was in the clear
4. We were the first people outside his family to speak to him about his experience - and we interviewed him in person before police, and nearly a year before other media. He told us he wanted closure. Not even 12 hrs after he left our hotel, CSIS came and banged on his door.
5. We kept in touch with him over the next year-and-a-half and flew back to Canada to interview him on two other occasions. We also spoke to him by phone. I continue to speak to him now. In that time, everything changed for him. CSIS & RCMP interrogated him. He began to panic.
6. He began sending me increasingly anxious texts asking us to drop the podcast. I told him we couldn't. At one point, he offered via an intermediary to pay us money to drop the podcast (of course we would *never* accept money from a source for any reason, so I again told him no)
7. Then as we neared publication, he began to say that if we went ahead and published, he would call it "fake news" and say he made it up. That's exactly what he has done. So now let me lay out for you what we know to be true about his account.
8. First, I reached out to my colleague @nixonron, who covers Homeland Security. He determined that Huzayfah had been placed on the United States' no-fly list. That means he can't board an American carrier. In addition, he also can't enter American airspace.
9. So imagine Huzayfah wanted to take an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Paris, and the flight cuts across Buffalo, N.Y. - then he can't board that flight b/c it enters American airspace. @nixonron explained to me that this is a big deal.
10. Next, I reached out to @EricSchmittNYT & @adamgoldmanNYT. I've known these reporters for years & they are among the best-sourced journalists in our business. They called several different intelligence/government agencies. They were told Huzayfah was an ex-member of ISIS
11. They were also told that he joined ISIS in Syria. One official gave a plausible timeline of 2014 to early 2015. Huzayfah had told us that he'd gone to Syria in Feb 2014 and left before the caliphate was declared on July 4, 2014. So far so good, right? Things were lining up
12. But during our interview, Huzayfah had also said a # of things that contradicted that timeline. Here are some of the inconsistencies: (1) He said he left pre-caliphate. But he also said he remembered candy being handed out the day Baghdadi announced the caliphate
13. By his original account, he left before July 4, 2014. But he also said he remembered the Yazidi girls being brought in trucks to Syria. The Yazidi women and girls were kidnapped on Sinjar mountain starting Aug. 3, 2014 and began being transported to Syria end of August 2014
14. We at @nytimes never take people at face value and so to factcheck his account, I asked him to show me his passport. He was kind enough to let me take pictures of it. It was when I began carefully studying the stamps that my team & I noticed this July 1, 2014 exit stamp:
15. Could that July 1 exit stamp be an exit out of Turkey? That would line up with Huzayfah's account. We then turned to my ingenious colleague @salmanmasood in Islamabad, who was able to use Huzayfah's passport number to get his detailed travel log in and out of Pakistan.
16. That July 1 stamp? It was an exit out of Lahore as he boarded a flight to Canada. We also saw that in February 2014 - the date he said he arrived in Syria - he was flying back & forth between Canada and Pakistan. At this point, it was obvious he had lied to us about the dates
17. Also on this travel log, we noticed there was a multi-month gap from 9/2014 to 4/2015 when he was not traveling. Could that have been when he went to Syria? If he went in the fall of 2014, the Yazidi example would make sense. That's when we began to fixate on this picture
18. This is a still from a video Huzayfah shared with me. He said it shows him shooting a glock into the Euphrates River in Syria. He has given me permission to post it (likely because you can't make out his face). That's when we turned to my talented colleague @malachybrowne
19. @malachybrowne is an expert on geolocation. He's able to take nondescript images like the one below & zoom in on tiny geographic features that and use them to find the exact GPS location of where the image was taken. Below are the features that Malachy studied:
20. (Intermission is starting now. My crack podcast team of @larissaluu @AndyMillsNYT @SchwendyDorr @Pasthaaa are waiting for me in the studio to record future episodes of #Caliphate. Back with you in a few hours).
21. Welcome back, everyone. Continuing where we left off, we now know that Huzayfah for sure lied about the timeline of when he went to Syria. But can we prove when he went? The picture below provided one more data point. Check out the structures circled by @malachybrowne:
22. The still from the video showing a man aiming a pistol over a body of water shows a bridge, a small house, some trees & a pumping system. Huzayfah claimed this photo was shot near Membij. It wasn't. @malachybrowne spent a day travelling up and down the Euphrates River online
23. He finally found the exact place where this photo was taken. The GPS location is 35.928191, 38.994816. Here is the pin:°55'41.5%22N+38°59'41.3%22E/@35.9281944,38.9926169,1453m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d35.9281944!4d38.9948056
24. The only spot that matched that exact angle to the bridge & the composition of buildings & shrubs was in a bend of the Euphrates near Raqqa. And for the angle to be replicated like it was in the picture, the shooter had to be standing on an island inside the river:
25. Now here is where it gets interesting: In satellite images you can see that the island inside that bend in the river did *not* exist in Nov 2014 (first picture). It's clearly visible by spring 2015 (second image). @malachybrowne here got an assist from @ckoettl & @planetlabs
26. @malachybrowne believes the island in the river is a man-made gravel pile of some kind. But if the man shooting in that image is indeed Huzayfah, he can't have taken that shot pre-November 2014. (Again it points to a later timeline).
26. Finally, in the Canadian passport that Huzayfah showed me there's no entry stamp for Turkey. When I confronted him on this point, he said he used his Pakistani passport. @salmanmasood in Islamabad was able to pull up that passport and it's been expired for years.
27. Next @salmanmasood visited the campus of Huzayfah's university in Pakistan. His transcript shows he was getting grades through fall 2014, but there's a gap from Jan-March 2015. We found a doc showing he'd dropped out of the winter semester (it's cropped to remove his name)
28. So at this point here is what we know: The window of time that he could have gone to Syria has shrunk from most likely Jan-March 2015 (unless he had someone posing for him in classes in the fall of 20140. He didn't use his Canadian or his Pakistani passport to get in.
29. At this point, we called to let him know what we knew. He got quiet & he finally admitted that he'd lied about the timeline. He said he thought it would look more innocent if he'd gone pre-caliphate. But on which passport?
30. I'd begun to suspect that he used either a fraudulent passport or borrowed one from a friend or relative. He did not want to discuss this point, and I don't blame him. I realized then the conundrum authorities find themselves in.
31. If he's managed to hide the travel document he used to go to Turkey and then Syria, it means RCMP can't even prove he entered Turkey, much less Syria (where there is no stamp). Thank you to all of you who followed along. The link to the episode is here…

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More from @rcallimachi

Sep 12, 2018
1. Do you remember the days when the news alerts announcing terror attacks seemed to come one after another? So here’s the good news: Terror attacks carried out in the name of ISIS in the West have dropped dramatically. (Read next tweet for the bad news).…
2. Data collected by @gwupoe shows a steep drop in successful ISIS attacks in Europe and America, from 14 in 2015, to 22 in 2016, to 27 in 2017, to —- wait for this — just four in the first eight months of 2018. It’s an absolutely jaw-dropping decline:
3. Politicians looking to score points have attributed drop to the Coalition’s gains against ISIS on the battlefield. Yesterday in Syria, troops began the offensive on the town of Hajin, the last oasis of ISIS control in the region. ISIS has lost all but 1% of land they once held
Read 11 tweets
Sep 11, 2018
1. Today, the Coalition fighting ISIS announced the start of the operation to take back the town of Hajin, the last sliver of land under the group’s control in Iraq and Syria:…
2. From a territory once the size of Britain, ISIS has lost all but 1% of its land holdings in Iraq & Syria. The Coalition-back Syrian Democratic Forces are now clearing the last 200 sq. miles of ISIS real estate. What ISIS still holds is concentrated around the town of Hajin
3. Once this parcel of land is erased, ISIS will hold no land in the region where its caliphate was born. Cause for celebration? It’s a big achievement which came at a huge cost (thousands of soldiers & civilians killed & 29,000 airstrikes which decimated cities like Raqqa/Mosul)
Read 8 tweets
Sep 10, 2018
1. Some big news: I found the first cache of ISIS documents during an embed with Iraqi troops in the village of Omar Khan in 2016. From that day until now, I’ve struggled with the question of how to make the records we discovered & saved available both to Iraqis & to the public?
2. My team returned to Iraq five times, spending months in the field, collecting some 15,000+ pages of internal ISIS records. It took 3 months for a professional scanner in Delaware to digitize them, and last week, the trove was handed over to Iraq via it’s embassy in Washington.
3. And after a monthslong search, the New York Times has signed a partnership with George Washington University, one of the premiere institutions studying terrorism. They will be creating a virtual library of the trove, so that it is available to everyone:…
Read 10 tweets
Aug 7, 2018
1. Twenty years ago today, al-Qaeda bombed the U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing scores of people and inaugurating the era of global terror, where jihadists sought to kill Westerners and anyone allied with them at all four corners of the world.
2. One iteration of that movement took the lives of a young American couple who were biking around the world. Just over a week ago in Tajikistan, they were crushed to death by a car driven by men who appear to have pledged allegiance to ISIS:…
3. We rarely have time to delve into the lives of the victims. This week, I took the time, moved by the remarkable life of Jay Austin & Lauren Geoghegan, who quit their office jobs a year ago in order to be more present and to fulfill a dream of biking around the world.
Read 19 tweets
Jul 31, 2018
6. They hold hands and pledge allegiance to “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Quraishi,” the long honorific for the ISIS leader. At their feet is a knife. Can you spot it?
7. Here’s what’s interesting: The Tajik ministry released a statement saying they had killed several of the attackers, & included photographs of their bodies. Compare the blond assailant in the ISIS pledge video and the picture that the ministry released:
8. The ministry’s statement is below and if you scroll through it, you can see several other attackers that look similar to the ones in the video:…
Read 8 tweets
Jul 31, 2018
1. In addition to claiming responsibility for the hit-and-run in Tajikistan, ISIS also released a video purporting to show the five attackers pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:…
2. Of the hundreds of attacks worldwide that ISIS has issued claims for, it has only released a pledge video for a minority. While the video doesn’t mean the attack was directed by ISIS, it does mean the attackers at a minimum had a digital connection to the group
3. We’ve often seen cases where governments rejected any ISIS link, only for the video or photos to emerge, making it hard to deny that the attacker at the very least had a cyberconnection to the terrorist group. Examples include the Berlin & Wurzburg attack& Holey Artisan Bakery
Read 5 tweets

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