Coming in May on FRONTLINE

May 3, 2016
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

“They came out of nowhere.” That was the common refrain when ISIS captured the world’s attention by seizing large swaths of Iraq, declaring an Islamic caliphate, and initiating a series of deadly terrorist attacks around the globe, including in Paris and Brussels.

But as FRONTLINE’s May 17 documentary The Secret History of ISIS reveals in grim detail, the emergence of the brutal terrorist group should not have been a surprise — especially to the U.S. government.

“Time and time again, American officials over two administrations missed their chance to stop the rise of ISIS,” says veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk (Losing Iraq, United States of Secrets, Bush’s War). “Our new film lays out how and why we got here. We’ve found that it’s a story of unintended consequences, compounding over time in catastrophic and tragic ways.”

The Secret History of ISIS — one of three new episodes of FRONTLINE airing this month on PBS and online — investigates the inside political story of how the American invasion of Iraq and the decisions of two presidents helped to lay the groundwork for ISIS to grow into the world’s most feared terrorist group.

With depth and insight, the film shows how Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a one-time thug turned jihadi leader, was able was to outmaneuver the American government for a time and build a brutal terrorist organization that would destabilize the Middle East and inflict violence around the world.

Plus: On May 3, FRONTLINE will premiere a two-part hour featuring Benghazi in Crisis and Yemen Under Siege — two short documentaries filmed in the heart of major conflict zones.

And finally: When disaster strikes, who profits? On May 24, FRONTLINE and NPR will partner to investigate the Business of Disaster. 

Here’s a closer look at FRONTLINE’s May lineup:

May 3: Benghazi in Crisis/Yemen Under Siege

One hour. Two gripping reports. First, with Libya now ISIS’s biggest base outside of Syria and Iraq, journalist Feras Kilani goes inside the war-torn city of Benghazi and reveals firsthand just how chaotic the situation there has become, as ISIS, other Islamist militants, warring militias and the Libyan army all fight for control. Then, journalist Safa Al Ahmad (The Fight for Yemen) makes a dangerous return to Yemen and reveals the conflict’s stunning human toll as it’s rarely seen.

May 17: The Secret History of ISIS

The inside story of the creation of ISIS, and how the United States missed the many warning signs. The film uncovers the terror group’s earliest plans, the Islamic radicals who became its leaders, and the American failures to stop ISIS’s brutal rise.

May 24: Business of Disaster

Disasters are big business, and FRONTLINE’s new investigation with NPR examines who profits when disaster strikes. The film focuses on Superstorm Sandy: the thousands still not home, the agencies that were supposed to help, and the companies that made millions.

Check your local PBS listings for airtimes.

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