The report from January was one of hundreds that Mr. Abdul Kareem has made inside Syria in recent years, building his reputation as a unique voice covering the war from rebel-held areas that other Western journalists have fled for fear of kidnapping and beheading by jihadists.
Along the way, Mr. Abdul Kareem has interviewed foreign fighters from Britain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and survived the siege of eastern Aleppo by government forces last year.
While he harshly criticizes the jihadists of the Islamic State, he has done extensive interviews with members of the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. In one, a prominent jihadist cleric from Saudi Arabia explains why joining the jihad in Syria is a religious obligation and says that fighters in Syria are “the first line of defense” against the Shiites.
Such interviews have led critics to brand Mr. Abdul Kareem a jihadist propagandist.
The Syrian government and its Russian allies say he cavorts with terrorists. Although the United States has taken no public stance on his work, terrorism analysts say he provides an uncritical, English-language platform for jihadists.
“It is the soft approach, the sugarcoated approach,” said Alberto M. Fernandez, a former top counterterrorism official at the State Department and now vice president of the Middle East Media Research Institute.
That played into the strategy of Syria’s Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, to blend in with the wider rebel movement by changing its name, announcing a break with Al Qaeda and merging with other factions — moves that have not convinced the United States that the group has changed, Mr. Fernandez said.
“But to the broader world, inside of Syria and on social media, there is an effort to reinvent them as kinder, gentler jihadists,” he said, adding that Mr. Abdul Kareem was part of that effort.
Mr. Abdul Kareem begged to differ.
When I contacted him about his work, he jokingly suggested that I drop by for dinner — at his place in northern Syria.
In a series of Skype interviews, he discussed his work and explained how he had grown from a churchgoing kid in Mount Vernon, N.Y., with a knack for “yo’ mama so fat jokes” into an unlikely correspondent in a Middle Eastern war.
He insisted that he was an independent journalist who belonged to no militant group, opposed violence against civilians and did not bear arms.
“Do you think this war needs one more black guy with no hair on his head blasting with a Kalashnikov?” he asked, laughing.
But he acknowledged that he speaks with members of Syria’s Islamist factions, including Al Qaeda, to provide Western audiences with a window into their views.
Too often, he said, the West dismisses Islamist fighters as “terrorists” without understanding what motivates them, just as Islamists fail to understand the United States. That has locked the two sides in an endless, “lose-lose” battle, he said, which he believes can be solved only through dialogue.
He acknowledged that such an initiative was a long shot — especially with President Trump in the White House. Mr. Trump has called for stepping up the war with what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism,” so dialogue with Islamists seems unlikely.
“I can have these conversations with Al Qaeda members, and sometimes you convince them and sometimes they are not convinced,” he said. “I wonder how welcome I would be if I walked into Washington and said, ‘Hey guys, I want to talk to you about Al Qaeda.’ I wonder if I would get the same tea with one spoonful of sugar in it.”
Mr. Abdul Kareem was born Darrell Lamont Phelps and raised by his mother in Mount Vernon. A 1988 yearbook photo from his high school shows a grinning young man in a tuxedo and bow tie.
As Mr. Abdul Kareem tells it, he moved to New York City, where he dabbled in music, theater and stand-up comedy before converting to Islam, attracted to its conception of God and its emphasis on clean living.
He decided to study Arabic so he could read Islamic scriptures for himself and traveled to Sudan before settling in Egypt. There he got a job presenting an English-language religion program on a Saudi-funded television station, but he fell out with the channel’s management over his interest in current affairs and quit. He later made documentaries in Libya, Rwanda and elsewhere for an Islamic channel in Britain.
In 2012, he went to Syria to document how Islamist fighters who held territory were operating, and Syria has been his focus since. Early on, he collaborated with Western news outlets to produce reports about foreign fighters. But he felt that they only wanted “bad guy stories” that sensationalized the fighters, he said.
So he and some friends founded On The Ground News to produce original videos and articles from Syria that he distributes through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He said he received some funding from sympathetic individuals he declined to name.
Now 46, Mr. Abdul Kareem is married with five children, who live with their mother outside Syria. He declined to say where for fear that their association with him could cause them problems with the authorities.
Besides his family and being able to communicate with people in English, he misses “Italian pizza from New York,” he said.
He has covered different aspects of the war, including civilians wounded in airstrikes, the destruction caused by rocket attacks and the views of fighters, often near the front lines.
Running through his work is the view that the battle against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is a just Islamic cause against a brutal oppressor, and outrage that the world is not doing more to help out.
“It’s a sectarian war and don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not,” he said. “If they tell you that it’s not, they don’t know or they are lying.”
Mr. Abdul Kareem’s profile rose significantly last year when he became trapped in the siege of eastern Aleppo by government forces and filed dispatches almost daily about the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
In one report, he stood in a destroyed neighborhood and pointed out bombs falling from the sky beneath white parachutes. In another, he filmed himself brushing his teeth to show how the sounds of war dominated everyday life.
“You get up to brush your teeth and a fight kicks off,” he said. “That’s normal.”
As the siege tightened and government forces advanced, he released a video that he said could be his last, attacking Muslim leaders who had failed to help the rebels.
“You all blew it, and you had a golden opportunity,” he said.
But he survived, filming a video showing a masked fighter wearing an explosive belt before hiding in the back of a truck belonging to a Syrian family to flee the city.
“We have arrived, we are out, we are out!” he said in a video celebrating with his colleagues as they ate fresh produce for the first time in months.
“Wooooo, apples!” Mr. Abdul Kareem said.
Since then, he has remained in rebel-held parts of Idlib Province in northwest Syria, where he hopes his work will prompt a conversation between Islamic militants and the United States.
“If the two sides decide that the only way forward is to just launch strikes on each other, then that is just what they decided to do,” he said. “But a good cup of tea and some dialogue never hurt nobody.”