Rukmini Callimachi, a Reporter With Jihadists on Speed-Dial

Rukmini Callimachi
Rukmini Callimachi. Screenshot via Charlie Rose.

At Slate, correspondent Isaac Chotiner has a fascinating discussion with Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times‘s intrepid correspondent on the al Qaeda and ISIS beat.

The interview reveals the very human aspects of a reporter who is dedicated to revealing the very human aspects of terrorists—including her husband’s request that she not check her phone in bed so that he doesn’t find himself inadvertently glimpsing beheading videos.

One of the most surprising revelations she shares is how close she sometimes has to become with jihadists in high places, such as Oumar Ould Hamaha, who had been a commander in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb:

For about eight months, he had a cellphone. I still have it programmed in my phone. You could actually call him and speak to him on the phone. At first I was speaking to him every week or every few days. It got to the point where he was calling me three times a day.

We were having these long drawn-out conversations that often involved him trying to convert me to Islam and him laughing when he didn’t succeed. I don’t want to make too much of it, but I suddenly felt like I had a human interlocutor in this crazy group. I could call him. I could start texting with him. We would call him whenever there was breaking news, like when they announced they were going to destroy this next mausoleum or when they announced they stoned to death a couple for adultery. But on some of the other stuff he told me, I just never felt comfortable quoting him because I didn’t know if he was telling me the truth.

Read the story