New terror threat from the Khorasan Group?

New terror threat from the Khorasan Group?

While international attention has focused on the atrocities of the Islamic State (IS) and the response of the US-led alliance against IS, the Pentagon recently introduced a new group called “Khorasan.” Here is a primer on the Khorasan Group.

What is the “Khorasan Group”?

According to US officials, it is a recently emerged affiliate or sub-group of al-Qaeda in Syria, which has the intention and the capability to strike Western – and primarily American – targets outside the MENA region.

Its leader, who may have been killed in an airstrike, is Kuwaiti Muhsin al-Fadhli. He is an al-Qaeda commander who was very close to al-Qaeda’s late leader Osama Bin Laden. Close enough to be one of the very few people who had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

The Khorasan Group’s operatives are seasoned and reportedly come from Iran, Afghanistan and most importantly Yemen, where the al-Qaeda members specialize in building explosives that are difficult to detect at security checkpoints.

Most information beyond that is speculative, including the names of the members, intentions and capabilities of the group and the news that its leaders/members were killed in recent airstrikes in Syria. Even the name “Khorasan” is said to be improvised by the American intelligence community, because there are no official declarations, or any signs of its existence, released by the group itself.

Why is it significant?

The existence and potential abilities of the Khorasan Group carries importance for both the West and the extremist groups, although for entirely different reasons.

Members of the Khorasan Group have “established a safe haven in Syria to develop and plan external attacks, in addition, to construct and test improvised explosive devices and to recruit Westerners for external operations,” according to senior White House officials.

The Group, unlike IS – which until now has operated regionally – is apparently designed exclusively to carry out attacks against Western interests elsewhere in the world. Besides having highly sophisticated explosive experts in their ranks, American worries about recruits with Western passports are justified.

Two of the most important prerequisites for an extremist group to establish dominance over others are healthy finances and continuous flow of new recruits. And to acquire funds and new recruits, you have to be popular among jihadist circles. That is why those groups tend to frequently execute spectacular operations.

Al-Qaeda, whose popularity has waned due to the failure of its official franchise in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, against the IS in the war for regional dominance, to decided to play the game that it is best at: striking targets around the world.

What to expect

Since the aim of the Khorasan Group is not conquering territory in the Middle East but rather carrying out clandestine operations abroad, its members will not be sitting together in large numbers in Syria or Iraq. It will not be possible to disrupt its planned operations by killing one or two of its leaders. Members are likely to be in structured in cells around the world.

In the short-term, it would not be surprising to see more operations against the Group’s operatives, not only in the Middle East but also in Western countries.

Even the partial success of this sub-group of al-Qaeda, (such as a few successful operations in big cities or against airlines) could bring about a new period of insecurity and uneasiness around the world with long-lasting effects.

About Author

Orkun Selcuk

Orkun is a Middle East expert and a consultant on political risk. He served as a strategic analyst for the Turkish Prime Ministry for eight years. Prior to that, he worked for nine years as a corporate banker for Garanti and Akbank, two of Turkey’s most prominent banks.