What Is the Khorasan Group, Targeted By US in Syria?

The U.S. military said today that by striking a little known terror cell called the Khorasan Group in Syria it was able to take out dangerous men who were “plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western targets to include the U.S. homeland.”

In the midst of the well-publicized campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the military’s first official announcement that a different, potentially more deadly terror group existed, that it’s members were planning an “imminent” attack on America and that those planning the attack had been killed in the U.S.-led bombing campaign all came as something of a surprise, considering that for the public, the group was virtually unheard of until a few days ago.

So here’s what we know so far about the mysterious Khorasan Group:

What Is the Khorasan Group?

The Khorasan Group is a relatively small al Qaeda unit – made up of just some 50 hardened fighters with mixing jihadist affiliations, according to a half-dozen officials with knowledge of the group. As the U.S. military’s Central Command put it, they are “seasoned al Qaeda veterans.” A senior administration official told reporters the group grew out of al Qaeda’s old core group in Afghanistan.

“It’s the same cast of characters we have had our eye on for some time,” the official said.

Back in June, ABC News reported that an alliance had been building inside Syria between al Qaeda operatives there and those from al Qaeda’s dangerous Yemen-based branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), home to expert bomb makers. Sources told ABC News today some of those allied jihadis, then unidentified, made up the Khorasan Group.

The group is not thought to be affiliated with ISIS, which had a public falling out with al Qaeda earlier this year. In fact, the Khorasan Group’s leader may have been tasked with fighting ISIS in Syria as well as the West, according to government documents and reports in the Long War Journal, as part of the larger, violent conflict between ISIS and al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front.

Digital Feature: What Is ISIS?

The word Khorasan denotes greater Afghanistan, parts of central Asia and China’s Xinxiang province. The term has religious significance in the context of jihad and several organizations in the region use the name in various ways.

Who’s Their Leader?

The Khorasan Group is believed to led by Muhsin al-Fadhili, a Kuwaiti native. While there’s scant information about the organization he leads, al-Fadhli has a long international rap sheet.

He’s wanted in the U.S. for his work as an “Iran-based senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier,” according to the State Department, and is suspected of being one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted operatives – one of the few aware of the 9/11 attacks before they happened.

Al-Fadhli, 33, was designated a terrorist by the U.S. back in 2005 for providing “financial and material support to the al-Zarqawi Network and al Qaeda,” the State Department said. Ironically over the years the al-Zarqawi Network in Iraq would mutate into what is now ISIS.

“…[P]rior to that [al-Fadhli] was involved in several terrorist attacks that took place October 2002, including the attacks on the French ship MV Limburg and against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait,” the U.S. Treasury said.

The United Nations added al-Fadhli to its al Qaeda Sanctions Committee list in 2005 as well. The same year, President Bush mentioned al-Fadhli, then just 23, by name in a speech, saying that the U.S., working with others, would “bring him to justice.”

The State Department offers a $7 million reward for information leading to his capture. While the U.S. military said Khorasan Group individuals were killed in the recent strikes, they did not identify any specifically.

So If They’re a Big Deal, Why Haven’t I Heard of Them?

Unlike previous terrorist foes, the U.S. government apparently worked to keep a tight lid on the identity of the Khorasan Group despite, as a senior administration official put it, the government watching the threat from the group “for some time.”

Though ABC News reported an air travel scare this summer that sources said today were linked to the group, the name “Khorasan Group” wasn’t used in the Western media until earlier this month when The Associated Press first identified them. Even after that, when Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., brought up the name in an open Congressional hearing last week, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson paused awkwardly before telling King that “discussion of specific organizations, I think, should be left to a classified setting.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, however, used the name a day later in a briefing with reporters, and profiles of the group followed in some major newspapers.

Still, today was the first time U.S. officials spoke so openly about the group, and it was the first time President Obama used the term in a public setting.

What Does The Khorasan Group Want With the U.S.?

Unlike ISIS, which is attempting to establish an Islamic kingdom centered in Syria and Iraq through large land grabs and local governance, U.S. officials say that as an al Qaeda group, Khorasan’s goal is to attack the West in spectacular fashion – and that such plots appear to be “imminent.”

“We had very good indications that this group, which is a very dangerous group, was plotting and planning imminent attacks against Western target to include the U.S. homeland,” Kirby told ABC News’ “Good Morning America”. “We knew that there was active plotting going on for an attack on the U.S. homeland.”

Later, Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters the U.S. believed Khorasan Group to be “nearing the execution phase” for an attack in Europe or the American homeland, likely using Western recruits to execute the plot.

A senior administration official told reporters the Obama administration had “been watching this threat from the Khorasan Group for some time and had contemplated action separate and apart from the growing threat from ISIL [ISIS],” but seized the “opportunity” to strike them at the same time as ISIS Monday night.

AQAP, the terror group’s Yemen affiliate from which some Khorasan fighters are said to come and home to al Qaeda’s master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, has managed multiple times to get explosives on board U.S.-bound aircraft, but each either failed to explode or was intercepted before its final destination. In one case, a refined version of an underwear bomb was smuggled out of the terror group’s control by an insider who was actually working for allied spy agencies.

In ABC News’ June report, sources said groups inside Syria, now believed to include the Khorasan Group, were working to produce new and “creative” designs for explosives that could evade airport security. In July the Department of Homeland Security increased security at airports and announced that “powerless” electronic devices would not be allowed on board a plane. Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials told ABC News today the Khorasan Group was the cause of the heightened security.

But After the Airstrikes, Are They Still a Threat?

Kirby said that the military believes that “the individuals that were plotting and planning it have been eliminated” but said the military is going to “continue… to assess the effectiveness of our strikes going through today.”

Security sources told ABC News they feared Kirby’s statement was too certain and said that the group was more likely just degraded in the strikes.

When asked if there was a continuing threat to the U.S., Mayville asked that the military be given “some time to assess” the strikes.

In an address to the nation today, President Obama said of the strikes on Khorasan that “once again it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

Al Qaeda’s 9/11 anniversary attacks ready to go. New undetectable explosive may be used

Credible information has reached Saudi, British and Australian agencies that two al Qaeda branches – IS in Iraq and Syria and AQAP at its base in Yemen – have wrapped up plans to roll out coordinated terrorist spectaculars around the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. According to DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources, they are preparing to strike simultaneously in the Middle East and a West European city. Next, they will go for US targets in the Middle East and Europe.

In the estimate of Islamist experts, the IS and AQAP have decided to delay direct terrorist action in the United States, calculating that an attack on America will have a greater shock impact some time after the first cycle of outrages, toward the end of 2014 or early 2015.
It was this information that galvanized Saudi King Abdullah into warning the West that Al Qaeda’s plans were imminent. “If neglected,” he said strongly last week, “I am certain that after a month they will reach Europe and, after another month, America.”
The king issued his warning on the occasion of the US Ambassador to Riyadh, Joseph W. Westphal’s formal presentation of credentials. This gave his warning added weight, because it was a fabricated opportunity. In the two years that Ambassador Westphal has officiated in the Saudi capital, the king has never found time to confirm his accreditation. This cold shoulder reflected the nonagenarian Saudi ruler’s opinion of US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies and what appears to Riyadh to be his lackadaisical attitude towards fighting Islamist terror.
Sharing the view that this peril is too grave to be ignored any longer, the prime ministers of Britain and Australia, David Cameron and Tony Abbott, appear to have prevailed on the Saudi king to signal this indirect warning to Washington – especially since Saudi intelligence shares the view that a great number of lives are at stake if Al Qaeda consummates its plans.
Our intelligence and counterterrorism sources disclose that the data on the two Al Qaeda groups’ plans to mark the 9/11 anniversary with major attacks has been in the hands of Middle Eastern, European and US security agencies since the second week of May, i.e., five months ago.

They were also anxiously aware that Al Qaeda’s top bomb-maker, Ibrahim Hassan A-Asiri, who works out of Yemen, had developed a secret explosive substance that can pass undetected through the screening devices and security measures currently in use at international airports and public places in the West and the Middle East.

Intelligence experts believe that this novel substance, when hidden in special shoes or electronic devices like iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, can beat even tight security scrutiny. However, information has also been received about the new undetectable explosive substance being implanted in the bodies of suicide jihadists, to produce the ultimate “body bombs.”

It is feared that this hazard is already in place and that a surgical procedure may have been carried out to implant it on carriers of American or European passports, at a secret clinic in Yemen or a Gulf emirate by a surgeon dedicated to the radical Islamist cause. These human bombs will have been able to travel through Jordan or Iraq through Turkey to their targeted destinations. Such carriers of invisible bombs may be Americans, Belgians, Britons, Australians, French citizens or Germans, and already on standby for the prearranged signal to push a certain button and demolish a selected target.

The novel invention has made it infinitely easier for terrorists to move around and approach their targets, unnoticed and without arousing suspicion.
Prime Minister Cameron has woken up to the peril. He announced Tuesday, Sept. 22, he would ask parliament to urgently approve sweeping legislation to combat the “scourge of extremism” – including the power to seize passports of an estimated 500 British Muslims known to be frequent travelers to Turkey, Syria and Iraq and strongly suspected of identifying with Al Qaeda’s jihadist ideology.

Most counterterrorism experts fear that these measures if approved would come too late to pre-empt Al Qaeda’s 9/11 anniversary plot.

Middle-East ‘Frenemies’

The enemy of your enemy is your… frenemy; and so it is across the Middle East as the WSJ notes the spread of The Islamic State has united many parties once at odds with each other to become ‘strange bedfellows‘.

 

Strange Bedfellows
Parties that display friction or outright aggression toward one another are finding themselves aligned in a desire to counter Islamic State.

Groups of colored lines between parties represent shared interests.

 

U.S. and Iran
The U.S. and Iran share an interest in fostering an Iraqi government strong enough to fend off Islamic State.

U.S. and Syria
The U.S. and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad share an interest in quashing Islamic State in Syria, even if the regime appears to put a higher priority on fighting other rebel groups.

Israel and Egypt
Israel and Egypt have come together to oppose Hamas, and they now have a similar long-term interest to do the same in confronting Islamic State.

Syria, Kurds, Turkey and Iraq
Turkey and Syria, long fearful of building up the region’s Kurds, have a shared interest in building up the Kurdish Peshmerga to combat a more immediate threat, Islamic State. Iraq has acquiesced.

Turkey and Qatar
Turkey and Qatar suddenly have a shared interest in keeping the Islamist movement they separately helped foster in check before Islamic State absorbs and consolidates it.

Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq
Saudi Arabia supported Sunnis in Iraq while Iran supported Shiites. They now have an interest in aiding the Shiite-led Iraq government to counter a common threat.

U.S., China and Russia
Russia and China have plenty of disputes with the U.S., but they agree that, as big powers, they are threatened in similar fashion by the expansionist Islamic extremism of Islamic State.

U.S., Egypt, Qatar and Turkey
Egypt’s military ruler sees Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. as hostile to his suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. They all now fear Islamic State will consolidate the Islamic threat.

U.S. and al Qaeda
The greatest odd bedfellow of all: Islamic State threatens al Qaeda as well as the West, meaning that, in fact, al Qaeda and the U.S. now have a shared enemy.

Boko Haram creates ‘Islamic Caliphate’ in Nigerian town

A screengrab taken on August 24, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows alleged members of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram at an undisclosed location (AFP Photo / Boko Haram)

A screengrab taken on August 24, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows alleged members of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram at an undisclosed location (AFP Photo / Boko Haram)

The leader of Boko Haram, Abubaker Shekau, has proclaimed an Islamic caliphate in the north eastern Nigerian town of Gwoza, which was seized by the Islamic militants earlier this month.

The United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) confirmed reports earlier this month that Gwoza was under Boko Harem control.

In a 52-minute video obtained by AFP Shekau said: “Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate, by the grace of Allah we will not leave the town. We have come to stay.”

Boko Haram is also believed to be in control of other areas of north eastern Nigeria including the southern part of Borno state as well as much of the territory of northern Borno and one town in neighboring Yobe state.

Experts have said the gains made by the Islamic group in recent weeks are unprecedented and they are close to creating an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, mirroring what IS, the Islamic State, has done in Iraq and Syria.

But determining the exact area, which has fallen into the hands of the Islamists, is hard to do. Humanitarian workers are thin on the ground in the sparsely populated area, mobile phone coverage is poor and the region has been under a state of emergency since May last year.

A screengrab taken on August 24, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (C), delivering a speech at an undisclosed location. Boko Haram's leader said he has created an Islamic caliphate in a northeast Nigeria town seized by the insurgents earlier this month (AFP Photo / Boko Haram)

A screengrab taken on August 24, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (C), delivering a speech at an undisclosed location. Boko Haram’s leader said he has created an Islamic caliphate in a northeast Nigeria town seized by the insurgents earlier this month (AFP Photo / Boko Haram)

However, some analysts have said that the Nigerian military could reverse the insurgents advance, although soldiers earlier this week refused to deploy to Gwoza without better weapons.

A government spokesman has said that 35 police officers at a training academy in Gwoza have gone missing. The academy was overrun by Boko Harem earlier this week. However, it is not clear if the officer have been kidnapped, killed or have gone into hiding.

Boko Haram, whose name can be translated as “Western education is forbidden,” is responsible for more than 10,000 deaths since 2009 in Nigeria.

More than 200 school girls were abducted by Boko Harem in April, although around 60 of them managed to escape. The exact whereabouts of the remaining girls is not accurately known.

The group says they want to enforce a harsh version of Islamic or Sharia law. Just half of Nigeria’s population is Christians and the rest are Muslim.

Libya’s Islamic militants ‘seize’ Benghazi, declare it ‘emirate’

 

Members of Ansar al-Sharia (Reuters / Stringer)

The Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia has declared Benghazi an ‘Islamic Emirate’ after claiming to have taken total control of Libya’s second largest city, seizing military barracks with rockets and ammunition.

The official spokesperson of the extremist group told local Radio Tawhid that “Benghazi has now become an Islamic emirate.”

The announcement has been denounced by pro-government militia forces.

The national Libyan army is in control of Benghazi and only withdrew from certain positions for tactical reasons. The claim that Benghazi is under the control of militias is a lie,” Khalifa Haftar, a former army general, who launched a self-declared offensive against militants in May, told Al Arabiya channel.

Ansar al-Sharia formed during the Libyan Revolution of 2011 that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi. The group is blamed for the attack on the US consulate in 2012 killing the US ambassador and 3 more Americans. The group advocates the implementation of strict Sharia law.

In some of the worst fighting since the revolution, around 200 people have been killed as violent clashes between rival militias erupted two weeks ago in the capital Tripoli and the city of Benghazi.

On Wednesday, the Islamic militants announced they overran an army base in Benghazi seizing dozens of weapons and boxes of ammunition. Libya’s Red Crescent said it had recovered the bodies of 35 soldiers from the base adding that there are presumably more.

Members of the Libyan Salafi armed group Ansar al-Sharia (Reuters / Asmaa Waguih)

Members of the Libyan Salafi armed group Ansar al-Sharia (Reuters / Asmaa Waguih)

At least 75 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in the two days of fighting in the eastern city, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, one hundred people have died in the battle for the airport, with 400 others believed to be wounded, the country’s health ministry announced on Saturday.

Over the past two weeks, rival militias have been fighting for the control of the airport in the southern part of the city. Zintan and Misrata militias have exchanged artillery fire and pounded the territory with Grad rockets.

Militia groups hit an oil storage tank with a rocket on Sunday night, causing a huge blaze which had been raging for over a day. Local firefighters couldn’t tackle the blaze as the interim government in Libya has called for international help.

As the chaos keeps spreading, UN Support Mission in Libya as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross have withdrawn their staff last week.

Foreign embassies have joined the missions evacuating its staff from the country. The UK has evacuated all “non-core” members of its diplomatic mission on Saturday after the mission’s cars were shelled at a militia checkpoint. The US embassy evacuated 150 of its personnel to bordering Tunisia.

Spain said on Thursday it was pulling its ambassador and embassy staff out of Libya temporarily, while one person was left to oversee the archives. Greece joined the same day saying it was sending vessels to Libya to evacuate embassy workers and a few hundred Chinese and European nationals.

Three years after the US and its NATO allies used air power to help the militants achieve victory over former leader Muammar Gaddafi, the country has descended into a failed state without cohesive government and rival militias fighting for power.

Jordanian Bedouin hoist Al Qaeda flag in Ma’an – 104 km from Eilat. US, Israeli forces on the ready

(Excerpt .debka.com)
Ma'an raises ISIS flag of revolt

Ma’an raises ISIS flag of revolt

“Ma’an is the Falluja of Jordan!” shouted thousands of Bedouin Saturday, June 28, in the southern Jordanian town of Ma’an. This legend was inscribed on the placards and flags they bore aloft with one hand in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). In the other, they waved automatic rifles.

Ma’an (pop: 50,000) is in a sensitive location:  218 km south of Amman, it also lies 104 km from the Israeli port town of Eilat and some 60 km from the main artery cutting south from northern Israel to the south.

But although pro-Al Qaeda riots have been going on for days in Ma’an, capital of the southern province of the Kingdom of Jordan, military and security personnel have not been seen in its vicinity.

The town has a history of violent unrest. It has in the past suffered curfew and was even, when the rioting got out of hand, stormed by soldiers firing live rounds and leaving dozens dead.

For now, King Abdullah is conferring urgently with his army and intelligence chiefs on how to suppress the Islamist revolt in Ma’an without it spilling over into other Jordanian towns, especially Salt, Irbid and Zerka, which have large clusters of Al Qaeda followers.

There was anxious talk in Washington Sunday about the prospect of Abdullah’s throne being rocked by an Islamist revolt, in which case the Obama administration would have no option but to approve the intervention of American and Israeli special operations forces to defend the king,  and push back against an Al Qaeda-ISIS invasion. However the domestic Islamist peril may be more immediate and acute than the external one.

A US military source consulted by DEBKAfile revealed that the Jordanian army is now concentrated in three sectors: The Syrian border in the north, the Iraqi border in the east and the capital.

In the first case, Jordanian troops are ranged to head off a possible incursion by ISIS forces concentrated in eastern Syria. They are also prepared to withstand a possible Syrian army assault to dampen Jordan’s military support for the Syrian rebels operating in southern Syria in defense of the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

In the second case, the Jordanian army is deployed directly opposite the ISIS forces which have seized control of most of Iraq’s Anbar province adjacent to the Jordanian border.
The army’s third sector is the capital, Amman, where it acts as the guardian of the royal regime.

Should the Islamist conflagration spread from Ma’an to other corners of the kingdom, its army will be short of fighting manpower for simultaneous defense against internal and external threats.
Our Washington sources report that Brig. Gen. Dennis McKean, commander of the joint US-Jordanian-Israeli underground Centcom-Forward war room established near Amman, has already received instructions to place the 12,000 US soldiers and USAF F-16 fighter squadron positioned in Jordan on the ready.

They also disclose that Brig. McKean is in direct communication with Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the commander of Israel’s Deep Operations command, Maj. Gen. Shay Avital and Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. .Amir Eshel.
The Deep Operations command was established in case it was necessary to launch operations against Iran or the Lebanese Hizballah in alien territory. This unit may find itself operating against Al Qaeda’s ISIS in Jordan instead

Washington, Jerusalem and Amman are mulling over whether to wait for the trouble in Jordan to escalate further before intervening, or to act preemptively before matters get out of hand by punching hard at ISIS forces concentrated along the Iraqi-Jordanian border. In the latter case, there would have to be a second decision as to which army would inflict the punch, its location and a forward estimate of the potential repercussions on Jordan’s internal security.

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