US Targets Khorasan GroupSeptember 26, 2014 in Syria
On 22 September, the US began targeted strikes against ISIS in Syria, and conducted a separate mission to target the “Khorasan group.” The Khorasan group, a.k.a Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) is a militant group which according to the Pentagon, is comprised of seasoned al Qaeda veterans.
The Khorasan group has gained public attention in the past week; however they are believed to have been operating in Syria for over a year. U.S. Central Command believes the core group, which has fewer than 100 members, is using the anarchy in Syria to create a haven from which to “plot attacks, build and test roadside bombs and recruit Westerners to carry out operations.” Michael Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said, “Khorasan is less of a threat to the region and more of a threat to the U.S. homeland than ISIS.” The group is known to be actively recruiting Westerners for plots against American and European interests. Recently, the group was known to be working bomb makers from al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to test new ways to slip explosives past airport security. Earlier this year, a recent ban on uncharged mobile phones arose from information that al Qaeda was working with Khorasan.
The name Khorasan is an ancient Islamic historical term used to describe the areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. The group have been known to be operating in Syria for the past year, led by 33 year old Muhsin al Fadhli. In 2012, the US State Department offered a $7 million reward for information on Fadhli’s whereabouts. He was known to be an al Qaeda financier with ties to Osama bin Laden, and among the few who knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks. Fadhli arrived in Syria in April 2013 and joined with al-Nusra Front, however at some point in the past year, they parted ways. It is believed the Khorasan Group is mimicking the social media tactics used by ISIS to recruit Westerners, with the goal of training them and sending them home to target locales in the West.
The US Director of Operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that they had been watching Fadhli and the group for some time, and believed they were “nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland.” The intelligence community discovered the plots against the United States in the past week, but did not identify the target. Sources did add that the plot may have involved a bomb made of clothes dipped in explosive material.
On 23 September, the US dropped 40 Tomahawk missiles, striking eight targets to the west of Aleppo. The targets were believed to be Khorasan group strongholds. The US is currently assessing whether Fadhli was killed in the airstrikes. One anonymous US official stated “We believe he is dead,” however it has not been independently confirmed, and such confirmation could take time.
The U.S. attack on Khorasan Group targets this were a strategic surprise, as the US intended to catch the group off guard by mixing strikes against ISIS with strikes against Khorasan group targets.