The Khorasan Group Explained

photo of Al Nusra Front flag from Wikipedia

The Khorasan Group may be more dangerous to the US than the Islamic State – that is, if they exist at all.

Who is the Khorasan Group according to US Intelligence?

If the Khorasan Group is any indication, bigger doesn’t always mean stronger. According to US National Intelligence director James Clapper, the Khorasan poses as much danger to America as the Islamic State.

Unlike the Islamic State, officials state the Khorasan Group derives strength, not through numbers and overt violence, but through expertise. Intelligence says group consists of a small network of veteran Al Qaeda officers numbering about 50.

Despite allegedly being on the US radar for over two years, the Khorasan Group didn’t fully emerge to the public eye until US air strikes targeted Islamic militants in Syria – a strike which also targeted Khorasan operatives.

Additionally, National Intelligence Director James Clapper set off a string of media coverage about the group when he mentioned them in a national press conference.

According to the AP, the group operates primarily in Syria and has benefitted from large scale operations against the Islamic State which have diverted attention away from their own presence.

Their name – Khorasan – which is a title given to the group by US officials, is reported to be derived from an ancient province under the Islamic caliphate that included parts of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.

Why they are considered dangerous

The group is supposedly made up of a number of seasoned Al Qaeda veterans whom the US has warned are capable of orchestrating terrorist attacks against the US homeland.

US intelligence says operatives were dispatched to Syria by Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in order to link with Al Qaeda’s Yemini affiliates.

Here, officials say, the operatives were attempting to collude with Yemini affiliates in an effort to create a bomb that could target US aviation.

This threat and their alleged ability to orchestrate an attack on US aviation in particular has drawn US attention towards the group.

Additionally, the flood of Western extremists to the area has raised US concerns that the group may be attempting to recruit Western jihadists in their plot to down a US plane – none of such Westerners more infamous than former French Intelligence officer David Durgeon, who is believed to be helping the group make a covert bomb.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group whom Khorasan operatives are reported to be working with, have already successfully smuggled bombs onto US bound planes, though they were never successfully detonated.

Are they still active?

For now, it appear that US lead campaigns against the group have been at least somewhat successful. In Late Sept. 2014, an Al Qaeda affiliate’s Twitter feed appears to corroborate US reports that air strikes were successful in killing Mohsin al-Fadhli, the group’s purported leader.

Additionally, in Nov. 2014, a missile attack on the group was thought to have killed a former French Intelligence officer David Durgeon who was working with Al Qaeda officials to create a bomb that could slip past airport security.

Some, however, are unconvinced that the group even exists at all. “First Look” editor and American lawyer Glenn Greenwald posits in a piece on The Intercept, that the Khorasan Group may very well be a red herring created to justify a continued air campaign in Syria.

Others have claimed the group could be more accurately described as a cell of the Nusra front – which is a subsect of Al Qaeda which operates primarily in Syria.

Conspiracy or not, the US military continues to wage its campaign against the group. While US military claims air strikes have lowered the threat, the CIA claims that the group is still as dangerous as ever.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero