More threatening than the Islamic State: What is the Khorasan group?

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Recently, intelligence reports said that the US needs to be on the alert for terror threats from a militant group in Syria… and it is not the Islamic State.

In a statement on early Tuesday, the US military said that in addition to taking out Islamic State targets, it mounted eight separate strikes overnight to disrupt an imminent attack against the United States and Western interests, conducted by a network of affiliated groups from Al-Qaeda; among these groups was the ‘Khorasan’  group.

According to the New York Times, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said, “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State”.

What is Khorasan?

Khorasan is a region which lies mainly in modern-day Iran.

The region became known as ‘Khorasan’ during the Sassanid era.

Why called that name?

At present, the territory of Khorasan encompasses Afghanistan, eastern Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

According to the militant group, this is where they will defeat their enemies.

Who are the group members?

Intelligence and terrorism experts said that the group mainly consists of Al-Qaeda members from across the Middle East and Europe.

The majority of militants come from Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, but as the group’s goals suggest, they have been able to recruit Europeans and Americans who came to fight with other militant groups in Syria.

The group is reportedly working alongside Al-Nusra front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

Who is the leader?

The Kuwaiti born 31-year-old Muhsen Al-Fadhli is the leader of the Khorasan group.

Al-Fadhli had lived in Iran, where he reportedly led Al-Qaeda’s Iranian branch after the former leader, Yasin Al-Suri, was detained.

After his predecessor was released and resumed his role leading Al-Qaeda in Iran, Al-Fadhli had to be reassigned, and was sent to the Syrian front.

Muhsen Al-Fadhli, leader of Khorasan terrorist group

What is their threat?

The group was sent to Syria by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who saw a prime opportunity to recruit Western passport holders.

The attraction is that Westerners can board planes back to their homelands more easily, and carry out terrorist attacks at their home countries.

The Khorasan group is believed to be an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, and aims to perform terrorist attacks in the West.

According to the CNN, US Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, has described the Khorasan group as “forward-deployed Al-Qaeda operatives who were engaging with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to develop a terror plot to bring down aeroplanes.”

According to International media reports, the Khorasan leader trains the group members on how to execute terrorist operations in the Western countries, focusing mostly on means of public transportation such as trains and aeroplanes.

How are they related to the Islamic State?

Al-Fadhli influenced Al-Qaeda’s decision to disassociate itself from the Islamic State in February 2014, according to a report by Long War Journal.

Al Qaeda’s decision to follow Al-Fadhli’s advice about the Islamic State indicates their confidence in Al-Fadhli.

In that case, it may confirm that Al-Fadhli is the de facto leader of Al-Qaeda in Syria, although this has not been officially announced, possibly over fear of exposing him.