Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Khorasan Group

Recent news reports have mentioned the U.S. targeting the "Khorasan Group."  Aron Lund writes about who exactly they are.  First, the name:
Khorasan is not an organizational name or even some exotic acronym, but an ancient Islamic historical term from the far east of the Muslim world. It is used today by al-Qaeda (and others who are fond of archaic Islamic terminology) to describe the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran region.
This is needlessly obscurantist.  Khorasan is a long-standing geographic term that existed before Islam as the term for the eastern region of the Sasanian Empire.  Today it is the name of Iran's large northeastern province.  Old religious usages have nothing to do with it.  Lund is probably right about this, however:
Whatever one decides to call it, this is not likely to be an independent organization, but rather a network-within-the-network, assigned to deal with specific tasks. Most likely it has no fixed name at all, and the “Khorasan Group” label has simply been invented for convenience by U.S. intelligence or adopted from informal references within the Nusra Front to these men as being, for example, “our brothers from Khorasan.”
Meanwhile, the meat of Lund's explanation:
According to the New York Times, the “Khorasan Group” moniker specifically refers to a small number of al-Qaeda veterans under the leadership of one Muhsin al-Fadhli, who may or may not have been killed in these air strikes, but who was, without a doubt, a high-priority target...
Fadhli, who is a Kuwaiti al-Qaeda veteran has lived in Iran for several years...Fadhli himself apparently relocated to Syria, where U.S. intelligence now believes he heads a small core of elite operatives drawn both from the Nusra Front and the wider al-Qaeda network—what the United States terms the “Khorasan Group.”
Centered in northwestern Syria, Fadhli’s team has joined or attached themselves to al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front franchise, the leadership of which is known to include several such veteran international jihadis (for example, its spokesman Abu Firas al-Souri, a Syrian veteran of the Afghanistan war who lived in Yemen until 2013). However, the Fadhli team is not necessarily fighting frontline battles or spending much time on the Nusra Front’s domestic concerns. Rather, they are alleged to have used the protection provided by the Nusra Front’s fighters to build a capacity for international attacks against the United States and other Western nations, for example by siphoning off some of the Nusra Front’s foreign recruits who have access to Western passports...
In other words, what has emerged around Fadhli is not an organization in its own right, but rather a sort of external operations division within, or on the fringes of, the Nusra Front, probably operating under the direct supervision of Zawahiri’s international al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.

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