Rukmini Callimachi has been called “arguably the best reporter on the most important beat in the world.” A four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, she covers the Islamic State for the New York Times, where she regularly speaks to the terrorists both in the encrypted chatrooms they use to communicate with each other and in jailhouse interviews conducted around the world. “From the time ISIS rose to become the most infamous terrorist organization on Earth, no reporters has done more to explain and expose the group than The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi,” Slate Magazine wrote.
Callimachii began covering terrorism in 2013, when residents of the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali led her to the buildings that had served as the headquarters of al-Qaeda's local cell. On the floor and in overturned cabinets, she found thousands of pages of internal al-Qaeda documents, which turned on its head the accepted understanding of the terror group. Far from a disorganized militia, Callimachi discovered disciplinary letters indicating that al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers were expected to turn in monthly expense reports, with receipts attached. Scouring the nearly 15,000 pages, Callimachi went on to publish “The ISIS Files” about how, through brutality and bureaucracy, the Islamic State has stayed in power for so long.
After years of covering city hall and park district meetings at a small newspaper in Illinois, she joined The Associated Press and was posted to Senegal in 2006. She became the news agency’s West Africa bureau chief in 2011, covering a 20-country stretch of the continent, including some of the region’s most complicated conflicts. In 2014, she was hired by the Times, covering first al-Qaeda and later ISIS around the world. Just as she did in Mali, she spent months scouring the buildings that ISIS had occupied in Iraq, amassing one of the largest archives of internal terrorist documents, which has allowed her to write the authoritative account of the group’s inner workings.
Her coverage has consistently broken new ground, beginning with an expose on how al-Qaeda was bankrolling its operations through ransoms paid by European governments to free their hostages. In 2015 and 2016, she was the first to show the extent to which ISIS was using religion to justify the systematic rape of women from the Yazidi minority. That same year, three Yazidi children handed Callimachi the inaugural Integrity in Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists.
In 2018, she released “Caliphate,” the New York Times first narrative nonfiction serialized podcast. The war on terror has cost the U.S. billions and had been fought for nearly 20 years. Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi asks the question “Who are we really fighting?” In 10-episodes, Callimachi reports on the Islamic State and the fall of Mosul. In one episode, she meets a Canadian member of ISIS in a hotel room in an undisclosed location. In the course of an hourslong interview, he confesses to the murders he says he carried out on behalf of the group. Slavery was enmeshed in the theology of ISIS. In another episode, Callimachi speaks to an ISIS detainee who challenges her to find the girl he enslaved. She does.
Besides being a Pulitzer finalist in 2009, 2014 and 2016, she has won the George Polk Award, the Michael Kelly Award for the Fearless Pursuit and Express of Truth and the Sigma Delta Chi Award. She is also the only journalist in the 75-year-history of the Overseas Press Club to win both of the club’s top two reporting awards the same year.
Born in Communist Romania, Callimachi and her family fled the country when she was 5 years old, becoming refugees in Switzerland before immigrating to America. Her stepfather was arrested by the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and spent close to 10 years under house arrest, first in Bucharest and later at a remote location near the Black Sea. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned her master’s in linguistics from Exeter College, Oxford.
1. EXPORTING TERROR: How ISIS Built the Machinery to Attack Europe and Beyond
Long before the United States launched the first hellfire missile over Syria, the Islamic State began infiltrating fighters back to Europe with the aim of carrying out bloodshed. They arrived with manuals showing in detailed diagrams how to make bombs and with encrypted apps on their phone that allowed them to communicate with their handlers in Syria. This lecture would plot the rise of this phenomenon and the changing tactics of the terror group, which refined and honed its techniques with every foiled plot.
2. TEH DIGITAL CALLIPHATE: How ISIS uses the Internet to Recruit and Mount Attacks in the West
Through nothing more than an internet cable, ISIS operatives in Syria have been able to reach deep within our communities, where they single out vulnerable and often mentally-unstable men for recruitment to their cause. At first, they used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr to encourage young men and women to travel to Syria, but as the journey became more perilous, ISIS made a 180-degree turn and issued statements saying that they were more valuable to the terror group if they stayed put at home and carried out violence within their communities. With each passing month, the sophistication of these “remote-controlled attacks” grew. In upstate New York, an ISIS recruit speaking to one of the terror group’s virtual coaches was instructed to go to Wal-Mart to buy zip-ties and knives for the execution he was about to commit. In France, ISIS’ cybercoaches arranged for a bag full of weapons to be left at a drop-off location for another young man who planned to attack a church. And in India, a group of young men were sent a set of GPS coordinates by their ISIS handler in Syria. It led them to a tree hundreds of miles away and swinging from its branches they found a bag containing the pistol they planned to use.
3. THE ISIS FILES: How ISIS built its State
At its height, ISIS controlled territory in Iraq and Syria that spanned the size of Great Britain and contained some 8 million people. Thousands of internal ISIS records found by Rukmini Callimachi in Iraq pull back the curtain on the vast administration that the militants ran, from a DMV office where ISIS bureaucrats checked the VIN numbers of vehicles being sold in order to make sure the car wasn’t stolen, to a Marriage Office that made sure couples underwent a medical exam to guarantee there was no physical impairment to procreation, to departments that handled garbage removal, sanitation, electricity and sewer. Much has been written about ISIS’ grotesque violence. Less covered is the surprisingly efficient administration that the group ran, which in certain localities provided better services than the internationally-recognized government they replaced.
4. COLLATERAL DAMAGE: The Unseen Impact of Terrorism
How do acts of terror change a community? The effects of violence on cities and towns is glaringly evident in the amount of physical destruction and lives claimed. But it is the latent, emotional effects often not seen for months or even years that are the hardest to measure and most difﬁcult to heal. Having witnessed ﬁrsthand the ways in which communities and nations alike have been torn apart by terror attacks, Rukmini Callimachi explains the ways trust is lost and the sense of security in one’s own home is destroyed.
In this speech, Callimachi outlines the consequences of violence and terror, both at home and across the world, and how they breed a suspicion and fear that divides c ommunities from within. As covered in her recent New York Times articles, she describes the ways in which communities, neighbors and local governments have begun to rebuild what they have lost and reestablish the broken trust.
5. JOURNALISM IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD
In a post-truth world, world-renown journalist Rukmini Callimachi breaks down for the audience the grueling work that goes into fact-checking her articles, including her groundbreaking podcast, Caliphate. While the White House has called journalists the “enemy of the people” and repeatedly described her newsroom as “The Failing New York Times,” Callimachi reveals both the risks she has taken in an effort to conﬁrm ground truths and how the current climate of hostility towards journalists has created greater peril for her and journalists around the world.
5. MEDIA MISINFORMATION & CONSPIRACY THEORIES:
Creating Campaigns to Propagate Domestic & Foreign Terrorism
The photograph shows a boy no older than 5 being laid to rest, his eyes still open wide, as if in fear. It was circulated on Twitter by ISIS members, who described the scene as resulting from an American. Except it wasn’t: The photo was shot a quarter century ago in an industrial town in India where an accident at a gas plant left more than 3,000 people dead. Attempts to mislead the public are now rampant across the internet, helped by YouTube and Facebook algorithms. The misinformation is being fanned by foreign governments and is a boon to terrorists, whose recruiters aim to create distrust in traditional news sources so that they can indoctrinate potential recruits. Callimachi can discuss how the splintering of the media landscape, the rise of social media as the main form of news consumption, and algorithms designed to keep people clicking are creating siloed spaces, where reality is distorted and conspiracies thrive.
6. SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN WARTIME: Rape As A Weapon of War
Sexual violence is being used in conﬂicts around the world as a way to not only break the individual, but as a way to break entire communities by creating women and girls who are rejected by their own families.
From Guinea to Congo to Iraq to Syria, award-winning journalist Rukmini Callimachi has covered the use of rape as a weapon of war. It’s a weapon that exploits the shame that surrounds rape and the notion that a woman’s sexual integrity is a reﬂection of her family’s honor. The Islamic State exploited this notion of honor when they kidnapped thousands of women and girls from the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, an ethnic group that had strict honor norms.
Over repeated trips to Iraq, Ms. Callimachi interviewed dozens of woman and girls who had escaped their ISIS captors. They described how the terror group had arrived in their villages with open-bed trucks and immediately separated the men from the women and girls. Males were executed on the spot, while the women and girls were herded into the waiting trucks and transported to buildings equipped with stacks of plates and utensils, indicating the terror group’s forethought. One by one they were sold to ﬁghters who warned them that escape was pointless: Their families would not take them back because they would know that they had been violated. So many women and girls endured this abuse that Yazidi culture was forced to change from within.
Pushed by a group of Yazidi activists, the group’s spiritual leader declared that the women would be accepted back. But as the perpetrators knew that acceptance had a limit: The community so far has not accepted to allow the children of rape to return. In both Iraq and Syria, orphanages now hold the children borne of rape, which Yazidi women were forced to surrender as a condition for their return.
My Writing of Princesses to The Secretive World of Terrorism:
Born in communist Romania, Rukmini Callimachi and her family fled to Switzerland where she was 5, where they were awarded refugee status. She grew up listening to stories of princesses – including of Eufesina Callimachi, a distant relative who was a Romanian princess. Her first story written at the age of 10 rather trite and revolved around a princess living in a castle. In 2013 after becoming a foreign correspondent in Africa, she reached the city of Timbuktu in Mali just after French forces had flushed out an army of al-Qaeda. In the buildings they had occupied she recovered thousands of their internal papers, opening a window into a secretive world that she has covered ever since.
Interview with Award-winning New York Times foreign correspondent, Rukmini Callimachi who is the foremost expert on Islamic terrorism
After international and local security forces' hard fought victories, how ISIS is regrouping in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.
The prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent who covers extremism, including Al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL.
Talking with Rachel Maddow about her analysis of the operational structure of ISIS and the infiltration of ISIS terrorists in the West
How Rukmini Callimachi searches for humanity on the ISIS beat
The Isis Files: Callimachi led an effort that gathered over 15,000 pages of documents left behind by ISIS in Iraq.
Presenter Lydia Polgreen, Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post
Chatting about covering ISIS for the New York Times and receiving death threats.
“It went SO well... Rukmini was by far the greatest speaker we have ever brought to Middlebury during my time here. It was absolutely amazing to learn more about her story. So many professors and students have come up to us since her talk thanking us for bringing her because they too believe she was the best speaker they’ve heard. She also !elded questions from students for an hour after her talk and was absolutely amazing to be around; her passion for her work was so evident. I feel very lucky to have met Rukmini and I am very grateful to you and your team for setting this up!”
“Working with Rukmini was amazing! She was a delight to host and her talk was absolutely fabulous. We had an incredibly engaged audience who probably could have taken question time hours beyond what we had allocated!”
Walker Art Center
“In a word, brilliant! Class visits were great. Public event was a full house, the presentation and hands-on experience were informative and engaging. Dinner was also a full house and Rukmini was as interested in learning about the students and Dartmouth now as the students were interested in learning about Rukmini as a Dartmouth undergraduate and alumna AND a foreign correspondent. A mutually enriching day on campus."
“In fall 2016, we hosted prize-winning investigator reporter Rukmini Callimachi as a speaker in the College’s signature Athenaeum speaker series. The topic of Ms. Callimachi’s remarks, “Notes from the Field: How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror,” was drawn from her years of methodical and dangerous research in the !eld. An imminently approachable person, Ms. Callimachi captivated the audience with her consequential and factual narrative steeped in history, intrigue, cruelty, and human tragedy. Her presentation highlighted not only her dedication to investigative journalism but to history, politics, and human rights and she added tremendous depth and perspective to a critical, complex, and fraught matter.”
Claremont McKenna College
“Few reporters speak with such clarity and insight about the inner workings of the Islamic state. Her coverage and analysis of ISIS and other extremists is nuanced, measured and a cut above the rest.”
World Affairs Council of Northern California
TRAILER: New York Times Episode 4 - "The Weekly"
VIDEO: New York Times — Covering Isis: Rukmini Callimachi on "The Weekly" - Episode 4 (June 27, 2019)
An American couple quit their Washington office jobs to bike around the world in search of experiences they couldn’t find from behind their desks. After thousands of miles through more than two dozen countries, Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan’s journey came to a violent end on the side of a highway in Tajikistan. That’s where five men who had pledged their allegiance to ISIS ran the couple and their travel companions down and stabbed them to death.