The New York Times, after first defending a critically acclaimed podcast about the caliphate in Syria, now says it will assign a new reporting team to re-examine the Pulitzer Prize-nominated series after one of the central subjects was arrested in Canada last week and charged with “hoax terrorist activity.”
Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, spoke with The Times and other media outlets under the pseudonym Abu Huzayfah, claiming that he had joined the caliphate in Syria and executed two people before growing disillusioned with the group and returning to Canada.
But last week the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Chaudhry on charges that he lied about his participation in ISIS terrorist activity in Syria.
“Hoaxes can generate fear within our communities and create the illusion there is a potential threat to Canadians, while we have determined otherwise,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superintendent Christopher deGale said in a statement at the time of the arrest.
The Times had spoken with Chaudhry as far back as mid-2016 and tracked his story over three continents.
The narrator of the podcast series, reporter Rukimini Callimachi, and the Times had initially defended questions about this subject’s story by reporting on some of his inconsistencies in the podcast. But the paper is now backpedaling following Chaudhry’s Sept. 26 arrest.
On Wednesday, executive editor Dean Baquet told staffers he was going to assign a team of reporters to re-report the piece following the arrest.
“We are going to look for the truth of his story and inevitably we are going to also ask the question about how we presented him so we are going to put together a group of reporters and take a new look at the story, his story and inevitably how we presented his story,” Baquet told staff on Wednesday, according to a readout of the meeting provided to The Daily Beast, which broke the story.
“So if you look at the whole series we did make it clear in the series that there were questions about his story but given what happened in Canada, given the allegation he made everything up we are going to re-report it,” he said, according to the Daily Beast.
Canada’s Global News reported that Chaudhry, a Burlington, Ontario resident, is the son of an Oakville shawarma-and-kabob shop owner. The publications says he has been posting on social media and telling reporters since 2016 that he was a former member of the ISIS religious police in Syria.
His Facebook page profile claims his name is “Abu Huzayfa” and that he is a “mujahid” or jihadist, the publication said.
“While the uncertainty about Abu Huzayfah’s story was explored directly in episodes of Caliphate that featured him, his arrest and the allegations surrounding it have raised new and important questions about him and his motivations,” the Times said in a statement. “We’re undertaking a fresh examination of his history and the way we presented him in our series. We will have more to say when we complete that effort.”