THEY are so dangerous, no one dared to reveal their name until now. Khorasan. The US says this “unholy mix” of militants’ sole mission is to attack the West.
Intelligence showed that the Khorasan group was in the final stages of plotting attacks against the US and Europe, most likely an attempt to blow up an airplane in flight using explosive toothpaste tubes or clothing they had learnt to smuggle on to planes undetected.
They are a collection of veteran al-Qaeda fighters, actively plotting an attack against a US homeland and Western targets.
As a result, they were the central focus of yesterday’s air strikes.
US Central Command said that eight strikes were conducted against the previously unnamed group including training camps, an explosives factory and command facilities.
Revealed to be named Khorasan, it is just one of many al-Qaeda fragments to find a new identity and purpose after the death of Osama bin Laden.
It asserts the sole reason for its existence is to attack the United States and Europe.
The White House believes them.
The Obama administration has said that the Islamic State, the target of more than 160 air strikes in recent weeks, does not pose an imminent threat to the US homeland. The Khorasan group, however, is considered a clear and present danger.
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US intelligence sources have revealed they have intercepted discussions from Khorasan that prompted a heightened terror alert among airlines and airports earlier this year, with mobile phones and laptops being banned on flights to the US from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The director of US national intelligence James Clapper named the new terrorist organisation for the first time last week.
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The warning was initially lost amid his dramatic admission that he had “mistakenly misled” Congress about the surveillance of US citizens last year.
“There is potentially yet another threat to the homeland, yes,” he told an intelligence conference.
“In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as Islamic State.”
Under pressure … US intelligence director James Clapper Source: AP
Until now, US officials have been reluctant to name the group and its members.
Clapper first warned a Senate hearing in January that a group of core al-Qaeda militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan was plotting attacks against the West from Syria. But the group was not named.
Republican Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, declined to name the group in an interview with AP. But he described concerns among intelligence officials about “an unholy mix of people in Iraq and Syria right now — some who come from (Yemen), some who come from Afghanistan and Pakistan, others from the Maghreb” in North Africa.
“They can combine in ways that could pose a greater threat than their individual pieces. And that’s something we worry about,” said Schiff.
But Republican member of Congress, Mike Rogers, took the threat warning one step further. He says Khorasan is “engaging with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to develop a terror plot to bring down aeroplanes.”
Like the Islamic State, Khorasan spawned amid the confusion and turmoil wracking Syria. Feeding from the US-backed Muslim-based opposition to Syria’s President Assad, the terror cell is reportedly not interested in carving out a new caliphate.
Instead, it draws inspiration from the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. It is reportedly actively recruiting Islamic fighters with Western passports in order to conduct similar strikes.
BORN OF BLOOD
Despite the years of drone missile strikes against the leadership of core al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen, the movement’s offshoots and affiliates remain a threat to the West. It has been rejuvenated in the past year as offshoots have grown in strength and numbers, bolstered by a flood of Western extremists.
Muhsin al Fadhli, 33, is reported to be the leader of the veteran al Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen who have formed the new terror cell.
The name “Khorasan” refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.
A member of al Qaeda since he was a teenager, the New York Times says Fadhli was such a closely trusted adviser to Bin Laden that he was one of the very few who knew of the September 11 attacks in advance.
His terror credentials include organising a suicide attack on an oil tanker in the Red Sea, conspiring to attack a hotel frequented by US officials in Yemen and plotting to attack a US base in Kuwait.
Terror training ground … Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of a suicide attack near Kabul. Al-Qaeda veterans from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen are said to be behind the newly formed Khorasan group. Source: AFP Source: AFP
CNN reports that Fadhli arrived in Syria in 2013 to work with al Qaeda affiliates in the region. Fadhli is said to be copying the Islamic State’s social media recruitment campaign to seek and train Westerners willing to attack their homelands.
US intelligence has expressed fears Khorasan recruits may include some trained by al Qaeda’s master bombmaker in Yemen, Ibrahim al Asiri, who is believed to be the brains behind several attempts to bring down airliners with devices such as exploding underwear and shoe bombs.
According to US intelligence assessments, the Khorasan militants have been testing new ways to slip explosives past airport security.
US officials say it was because of Khorasan’s ties with Asiri that the Transportation Security Administration in July decided to ban uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights to the US that originated in Europe and the Middle East.
Concealed weapon … Underwear with a six-inch long packet of the high explosive chemical called PETN was smuggled onto Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23-year-old Nigerian suspect on 25/12/2009. Source: AFP
“The group’s repeated efforts to conceal explosive devices to destroy aircraft demonstrate its continued pursuit of high-profile attacks against the West, its increasing awareness of Western security procedures and its efforts to adapt to those procedures that we adopt,” Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, recently told a Senate panel.
US officials have identified some members of the Khorasan group, but would not disclose the individuals’ names because of concerns they would hide from intelligence-gathering.
Intelligence officials have been deeply concerned about dozens of Americans and hundreds of Europeans who have gone to fight for various jihadist groups in Syria. Some of those Westerners’ identities are unknown and therefore they are less likely to draw the attention of intelligence officials when they purchase tickets and board a crowded jetliner heading for European and American cities.
Pressure-cooker … The flow of arms and cash to support those attempting to overthrow Syria’s President Assad has created a safe training ground for terror, intelligence officials have warned. Source: AFP Source: AFP
A US-led effort to galvanise the international community against what the Obama administration officials call an “unprecedented” threat from Western-based extremists flocking to Syria and Iraq will be taken to the UN this week.
“These are individuals who’ve been trained. These are individuals who have access to military equipment. And these are individuals who have indicated a willingness to die for their cause,” a White House spokesman said.
President Barack Obama is expected to lead the UN Security Council session that begins tomorrow, just the second time a US president has done so.
What President Obama wants out of the UN meeting, a the spokesman said, “is to have a discussion about what kinds of global standards can be put in place to mitigate the threat from these individuals.”
Prying eyes … This file combination of images shows an airport staff member demonstrating a full body scan at Manchester Airport in Manchester, northwest England. Source: AFP Source: News Limited
The Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution that would require nations to bar their citizens from travelling abroad to join terrorism organisations in a bid to stem the flow of Europeans, Americans and members of other Western nations into their ranks.
The US has been dealing for more than decade with the problem of Islamic extremists flocking to various battlefields, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen. But the movement of an estimated 15,000 foreign fighters to the civil war in Syria, which has spilt into Iraq, is an “unprecedented flow,” that creates an increased risk that some of those people will return to their home countries to attempt terrorist attacks, officials said.
And they are also worried about the presence of foreigners within the Islamic State, including the militant with the British accent who appeared to behead two American journalists and a British aid worker.
Off-focus … The National Security Agency (NSA), home of the United States secret surveillance programs, allegedly spying on the electronic communications of US citizens. Source: AFP Source: AFP
SLIPPING THROUGH THE GAPS
US intelligence agencies are working to track Westerners travelling to fight with extremists in Syria, but there are major gaps.
An Obama administration official said last night that the US “didn’t have full knowledge” of the travel patterns of Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who returned to Europe this year after fighting in Syria. On May 24, prosecutors say, he methodically shot four people at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels. Three died instantly, one afterwards. Nemmouche was arrested later, apparently by chance.
The US also failed to detect when Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who grew up a basketball fan in Vero Beach, Florida, travelled back home from the Syrian battlefield. He later returned to Syria, and in May killed 16 people and himself in a suicide bombing attack against Syrian government forces.
The US and many European nations already have laws on the books that allow them to prosecute their citizens who attempt to or succeed in travelling to join extremist groups. The UN resolution is intended to prod other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, to step up efforts to stop the flow of foreign fighters. It is also designed to facilitate more sharing of travel data and other intelligence designed to allow the tracking of foreign fighters, the officials said.