While ISIS continues to steal the spotlight with its threatening videos, another militant Islamic group has been stealthily plotting in the shadows. The Al Qaeda cell Khorasan also emerged from the Syrian civil war, and could, possibly, pose a more direct threat to the U.S. According to intelligence officials, Khorasan is aiming to plan attacks on the U.S., theoretically using a combination of its advanced bomb-making capabilities and Western recruits in Syria, who may use their passports to come back to America.
Khorasan is believed to be led by Al Qaeda senior operative Muhsin al-Fadhli, who had been a member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle and was one of the few who knew about the 9/11 attacks. Now it seems that the group could be planning to recreate a 9/11-like attack, which officials say is their primary focus.
Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell told CBS:
That is very worrisome because that brings together two pieces of a potential plot in the West. It brings together Western fighters who have gone to Syria to fight — so capable of carrying out operations in the West — with this bomb technology that Asiri [see below] brings to the table. You put those things together, you have a serious threat.
So just what is Khorasan, and what kind of threat do they really pose?
What Is Khorasan?
Like ISIS and the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's designated Syrian branch, Khorasan also used war-torn Syria as a base to develop and plot attacks. Its main focus has less to do with the civil war and more to do with potential Western recruits who have passports and access back into their home countries.
According to officials, its members come from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, while its leader, al-Fadhli, had been living in Iran after fleeing Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. intelligence agencies have been tracking al-Fadhli for more than a decade, discovering in 2012 that he was the head of Al Qaeda in Iran. The U.S. State Department even posted a reward of $7 million for any information leading to al-Fadhli.
How Big Is the Threat?
Officials believe that some Khorasan members come from Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, AQAP, whose member Ibrahim al-Asiri is considered to be the terror group's master bomb-maker. The group's explosives capabilities will likely target U.S. aviation once again.
According to Morell, Al Qaeda continues to see the aviation industry as a "symbol of the West" and to damage it is to damage the American economy. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated on Thursday:
In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.
How Do They Differ From ISIS?
While ISIS' main focus has been seizing territory in Iraq and Syria with the ultimate goal of establishing a new caliphate, Khorasan's suspected aim is to directly attack the U.S. In an effort to spread its propaganda, ISIS has been very public, and even ostentatious at times, about its aims and message. The group has a strong presence on social media and it deliberately calls attention to itself by posting beheading videos and warnings to the West.
On the other hand, Khorasan has remained in the shadows and evaded officials — Clapper's statement last week was the first time a U.S. official had even acknowledged the group's existence. If there is wisdom in the old saying "Keep your enemies closer," then Khorasan might outdo ISIS in strategy by remaining stealth.
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