A New York Times reporter on the ISIS beat first heard about the Amaq News Agency after the San Bernardino massacre, when a couple in California shot and killed 14 people at the county health department's holiday party. 

Amaq was the first to report that the couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were both supporters of ISIS.

Amaq was the also first agency to publish that the terror group claimed reponsibility for attacks at the airport and a subway station in Brussels last month.

"This seems to be the rhthym now," says Rukmini Callimachi, the Times reporter. "Amaq puts it out first and then very quickly after that you have an official release from the Islamic State."

But what is Amaq?

The agency publishes from an encrypted phone app called Telegram, but it has the trappings and appearance of a legitimate news organization.

"They use more neutral language" with breaking news and exclusive stories, says Callimachi. Amaq even has its own reporters embedded with ISIS militia units. But, Callimachi says, Amaq reporters are no observers.

"We know full well that nobody is embedded with an ISIS unit unless they share their peverse ideology," she says.

So why does the militant group need a news agency with the veneer of objectivity?

"ISIS really takes its state-building project seriously," she says. "In all of these of Middle Eastern countries you have a state news service."

ISIS has more than two dozen official media outlets, including a magazine in English, a radio station and many video channels on Telegram, from which the group puts out statements.

From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI