UPDATE -- Thanks again for the great questions everyone, sorry I'm not a faster typer. I've gotten to as many as I could today. Apologies to anyone whose question I couldn't get to, and thanks again for asking them and for watching this film. You can watch it online anytime:


My name is Muhammed Ali. I'm a Syrian journalist who's been covering the war for three years -- and the emergence of the radical jihadist group ISIS is possibly the most frightening development yet.

These fighters want to establish an Islamic state, and they're willing to use the most brutal tactics imaginable to get there.

They present a whole new threat to the rebel forces, who are already in a stalemate with the Assad regime.

Reporting for FRONTLINE (PBS), I got into an ISIS held town to report on what life is like under their control -- and to document their growing power on the ground in Syria. I was shocked by what I saw.

The film I made, "Syria's Second Front," aired last night on FRONTLINE, and you can watch it here anytime:


Ask me anything!

PROOF: https://twitter.com/frontlinepbs/status/433381144802127872

Comments: 537 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

Ppitm1147 karma

What makes them worse then Al Qaeda?

MuAliAli231 karma

It's hard to make a definitive comparison, but I can tell you that ISIS is especially brutal. A few examples of how ISIS is operating --

ISIS makes a special point of targeting journalists. If they're local, ISIS tends to simply kill them. If they're international, they'll be used for ransom. They're generally looking for any foreigners to kidnap.

They have made an effort to specifically target doctors and hospitals. http://to.pbs.org/1eODGDc

Though ISIS says they want to support Sunnis in Syria, they use suicide bombs to kill civilians from every sect -- they seem to be willing to kill as many civilians as necessary to get power.

The_Hooded_Tickler107 karma

Who do you honestly think will come out on top on this whole conflict? At some point, there has to be an end to all the fighting. How do you see that happening?

MuAliAli137 karma

Honestly, this could go on for a very, very long time. It's very hard to see the endgame from where I sit. This may end up being more comparable to something like the Israeli-Palestiniane conflict than a war, with a beginning and end.

osaucyone66 karma

How does seeing this violent conflict in person compare to what most Americans might see regarding the Syrian conflict?

MuAliAli133 karma

I don't think Americans see what Syrians' daily lives are like. They may hear about the big battles, but Syrians have to fight to survive every single day -- to get food, to find shelter, to make it through the next round of endless shelling, to pull themselves together enough to not give up.

For me, I've become somewhat numb to it on the surface. I've seen someone beheaded in front of me. I've seen so many people shot, killed. Nothing surprises me anymore - my emotions are just burned out. I'm sure it all affects me.

Every day I am checking in with members of my own family to be sure they're still alive.

Family life in Syria is destroyed -- just about everyone has lost family members.

And the toll on children is especially horrific. There are no schools. Watch "The Children of Aleppo" to get a sense of it:


wolfbananabear57 karma

With the ISIS being much worse than Al Quaeda, do you think they have a better chance at achieving their goal of an Islamic state? Also, can you go into detail the ISIS's effect on the town they occupy, how the residents are treated, food+water supply etc? Would you say they're livable conditions?

MuAliAli72 karma

ISIS has faced recent setbacks with loses to the rebels, but they remain a very serious threat in the country. The future of ISIS may depend on the extent of the international community's support of the rebels.

As far as how liveable a town under ISIS control is -- you might be surprised, they were able to handle many basic services, including managing food and water.

In one town I visited, where ISIS's power was challenged, they cut off the electricity as a punishment.

They were quite brutal. They kidnapped and tortured a number of the residents of the town to consolidate control.

Juneauite40 karma

What's the treatment of women like in the areas they control?

MuAliAli91 karma

In an ISIS controlled area, women:

-Must stay in their homes --- they are not allowed to appear in public. -If they must leave their homes, they have to cover everything. -They are only allowed to care for children inside the home. They cannot hold jobs. -If they don't follow these rules, they're tortured or killed.

catinthehats36 karma

Do you agree with the US and EU's anti-Assad policy?

MuAliAli50 karma

I'll say that don't see any interntional power making a big enough difference to bring this war to an end. They could, but they aren't.

rkerr233 karma

Do you believe that the establishment of an Islamic state would appease the ISIS and lead to less acts of brutality or would it exacerbate the situation? it is unbelievable that you were on the ground in Syria and thank you for providing the world with this information.

MuAliAli67 karma

Their actions speak volumes. Regardless of what kind of state Syria could have, they are brutal, and would remain brutal. It's central to their ideology. If they were in power, they would simply make that brutality a regular part of all Syrians' lives.

OmegaGob23 karma

What distinguishes them as being so dangerous? In extension to that, what is the amount of support that they have in Syria?

MuAliAli40 karma

Recent setbacks against the rebels have shown that support for ISIS is tenuous -- many Syrian want them out of the country.

While they gained a lot of ground in the past year, it's not clear they can hold it.

Here's what the map looks like now: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/foreign-affairs-defense/syrias-second-front/map-syrias-shifting-battle-lines/

Quert12322 karma


MuAliAli86 karma

To reveal the truth, and to help people by showing what is really happening in Syria. As long as people are asking me to cover their stores in this war, I'll go. But believe me, I'd love a vacation.

Rkar16 karma

Do you thiink ISIS may turn on Al-Qaeda at some point and lead to a war between those two factions?

MuAliAli32 karma

That is already happening to an extent.

When ISIS emerged, Al-Nusrah (an Al-Qaeda branch operating in Syria) tried to negotiate between the free Syrian army (FSA) and ISIS. But ISIS wouldn't make any compromises.

Then ISIS stole money and oil from Al-Nusrah, and that pushed Al-Nusrah to fight them.

So now Al-Nusrah is working with the FSA to attack ISIS in the eastern Syrian town of Deir Az Zour.

KristopherRocancourt13 karma

What are these "most brutal tactics imaginable"?

MuAliAli37 karma

Their tactics include - public beheadings, whipping, electrocution, kidnapping, hanging, using child fighters, suicide bombing civilians, and targeting doctors, patients, hospitals, journalists, aid workers, and anyone foreign.

SirTojo12 karma

Where in Syria were you?

How are the local fighters views on ISIS? Not thinking of Al Nusra but the youth and armed civilians.

What makes the AQ affiliates steer away from ISIS? Views, violence or clashing interests?

How is the situation for the non extremists groups atm?

Are there any effects from Qatar's recent laws on declaring money?

Video is unavailable in my country so I ask what I hope was answered in the video.

MuAliAli16 karma

As for the question on how ISIS is viewed by civilians, I can say that civilians in the north generally support the FSA, and hope they'll defeat ISIS.

I've been to a number of civilian demonstrations in that area in support of the FSA, encouraging them to win the battle against ISIS and Assad.

I can also say that, in the town I visited, the situation changed completely when ISIS left...people started talking again. While ISIS was there, people were terrified.

The civilians I met were happy to see ISIS driven out of the town.

VinWalker-12 karma

College journalist here. I have two questions. First, what got you into journalism? Also how many if any near death experiences have you had?

MuAliAli18 karma

About why I became a journalist -- the simple answer is that I think revealing the truth supports freedom.

I began working as a professional journalist in 2005, when I lived in Damascus, and initially focused on the economy and the stock market.

But I wrote about politics as well, and under a dictatorship, journalists become the enemy. I left Syria in 2010 and covered the 2011 uprising for the BBC and others from Beirut and then Lebanon.

I wanted to come back and report on Syria because people must know what’s really happening if we're ever going to solve this dilemma.

yoohoohoo-10 karma

Hello - thanks doing this AMA!

Is the ISIS mainly comprised of foreigners, and are the foreign fighters more radical than the Syrian population?

My own opinion is that most Syrian people would not want to live in an Islamic State. What are your thought?

Do you think there is a political solution to the Syrian Civil War, and how likely is it for Syria to be partitioned?


MuAliAli19 karma

Yes, ISIS is comprised mainly of foreign fighters, most of them Iraqi.

LuckyDuck779 karma

Seems like a risky topic to cover. Did you ever actually fear for your life?

MuAliAli66 karma

I've feared for my life too many times. Last year, I was seriously injured by government shelling. I had shrapnel in my leg and face.

Earlier in my career, I was abducted by an armed group aligned with Hezbollah.

But in the end, it just pushes me to continue on, because I want to defy the darkness, and shine a light on the truth.

ifartedhaha7 karma

What can you say about the Kurds' role in the conflict? I'm referring to the graphic:


MuAliAli12 karma

While they've had little impact on the recent battle against the jihadists in the north, they did clash with Islamists in Syria before that. Though they've been willing to fight anyone who's tried to gain control in their areas, really, including the FSA.