The first time the US acknowledged the presence of a shadowy and unknown group known as ” Khorasan” was when the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last week that this group is operating in Iraq and Syria with a mission to strike the US and western targets around the world and possibly in the US. His statement was not far off from the truth.
According to a senior Al Nusra Front leader who spoke to the Arab Daily News on the phone from Syria, on the condition of not identifying him who said that Khorasan is the unofficial name for the group of Arab veterans of Afghanistan who moved to Syria and Iraq with a laser focus on carrying on Al Qaida’s war against the US. Al Nusra Front is the local franchise made up of Syrian, Jordanians and other Arab volunteers bent on fighting the Assad regime and only later that it changed its label and became an Al Qaida affiliate. Khorasan however, is the true hardcore al Qaida senior leaders who fought with it in Afghanistan and Pakistan and still adhere to Bin Laden’s original mission of fighting the US and intend to avenge his death at the hands of the US.
The founder of Khorasan is reportedly the 34 years old Muhsin Al Fadhli a Kuwaiti citizen and convicted terrorist who fled Kuwait in a mysterious fashion in 2007 and was never heard from ever since then. Al Fadhli had spent time in Afghanistan and was a close confident of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden. Al Fadhli and his group did not bother with the war in Syria, and all what they wanted was a base of operation from which they can launch their attacks on the US and its allies according to Al Nusra leader.
Dr. Mohamad Abu Rumman, one of the Arab World’s most prominent experts on extremist Islamic and Jihadists groups and who teaches in the University of Jordan, told me on the phone from Amman that “Khorasan does exist as a secretive group within Al Nusra front in Syria.” Abu Rumman also said that “Many senior sources from inside Al Nusra have confirmed to him the presence of this group and that not many of Al Nusra’s rank and file members even know of its presence.”
Earlier this week, Al Qaida’s main media production outfit, Al Sahab published an Arabic-language audio statement of one of its leaders “Abu Dujana” who alluded to “Khorasan” speaking of “your brothers in Khorasan will continue to be ready for the fight” against the enemies of Islam.
To illustrate Khorasan’s danger from the US government perspective, Mike Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, told CBS News that Khorasan was near an execution phase of an attack on the US and has been actively recruiting westerners to carry on attacks inside the United States and other western nations.
Commenting on the strike that killed Al Fadhli last Monday, Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Khorasan was “nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland,”
Earlier in the week, Al Qaida’s main media production outfit, “Al Sahab” published an Arabic-language audio statement of one of its leaders “Abu Dujana” who alluded to “Khorasan” saying “your brothers in Khorasan will continue to be ready for the fight” against the enemies of Islam.”
But even with the killing of Al Fadhli and possibly other Khorasan members, the danger to the US mainland or its strategic presence abroad is far from over. This is because Khorasan is more like Al Qaida’s special operations unit or its Forward Operating Base in Syria close to its intended target and where it has had a freedom to operate freely.
Geographically, Khorasan is an ancient Islamic term for northeast Iran, parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. For Al Qaida and other ultra-Salafist extremist groups, using Islamic period terms and names is very significant because they are a “ returnists” that is adherents to the thinking that Muslims should “ return” to the true form of Islam as it was practiced during the prophet time and the time of his successors.
According to several jihadists and salafists experts in the region that I talked to, Khorasan group presence in Syria is strategic because it is in the heart of the Arab world where the US and other western nations have major military and economic presence such as military bases and commercial companies. Unlike its presence in distant Afghanistan, the secretive Khorasan can now for example strike the US bases or embassies in Iraq or in the gulf nations with missiles fired either from Iraq or Syria once it acquires such strategic weapons. It is also very close to its sister organization Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP where many of the plots to bomb US planes , post September 11, have originated. Ultra secretive, highly sophisticated and less concern with its media presence, Khorasan will become the new Al Qaida in the heart of the Middle East