Western intelligence services claim to have identified an Al-Qaeda splinter group which is attempting to use the influx of Westerners to Syria as a vector to launch a new wave of 9/11 style attacks on the West, but frustratingly almost nothing is known about them.
Until now the main concern about returning fighters from Syria has been radicalised young Islamists forming groups in their home nations and waging war on the streets of Europe. Now a newly identified group called Khorasan is changing perspectives, as they are absolutely focussed on fighting the “far enemy” – America and her allies, rather than the “near enemy” of factionalism infighting between dozens of near-identical Islamist groups in Syria.
The group identified as Khorasan is run by former senior Al-Qaeda commander Muhsin al-Fadhli, and according to former American director of national intelligence James Clapper is they are one to watch, as “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State”, reports the Independent.
Khorasan is not believed to be fighting for territory in Syria or Iraq, but rather to gain influence and to take advantage of the influx of American and Western fighters who have arrived to support ISIS. Their raison d’etre appears to be the perpetuation of the aims and methods of its parent group Al-Qaeda against America and Europe.
Khorasan is especially interested in jihadists with European or American passports because they are perceived to be more potentially successful plane hijackers and bombers than non Westerners, who generally enjoy greater checks and scrutiny at borders and airports. Mike Morell, former director of the CIA said in an interview with CBS last week that Khorasan had been expressly dispatched to Syria by the Al-Qaeda authorities to harvest these passport holders because: “they see airlines as a powerful symbol of the West… they think if they can damage airlines they can damage the Western economy as we saw with 9/11”.
Morell says what is known about the group is highly classified, so the extent to which their recruiting mission has been successful, and the size of their resources and membership are all unknown outside of security circles, if indeed it is known there at all. Regardless, the main area of concern are it’s links with Al-Qaeda expert bomb makers and it’s broader outlook and focus on the “far enemy”, rather than the Islamic State’s “near enemy” territorial ambitions.
Group leader al-Fadhi has been on Western watch-lists since 2001, when it was suspected he was amongst the select few who knew about the 9/11 plot before it happened. Because of the highly cellular and decentralised nature of al-Qaeda, this placed him very high up the food chain in 2001, when he was only 19 years old.