Al-Qaeda may stage attacks in Europe and Israel to show that they are still relevant following the rise of ISIS, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator has told a European Parliament committee. It is believed that some militants have travelled from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Syria in order to recruit European jihadists who may be willing to return to their home countries to stage attacks.
“It is possible that al-Qaeda may want to mount attacks to show that the organisation is still relevant, (that) they are still in the game,” Gilles De Kerchove told the Security and Defence committee in Brussels yesterday, according to Reuters.
He also attested that some militants had moved from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Syria in order to join Khorasan, an al-Qaeda affiliated group which has the destruction of Western targets in its sights. It is believed that they intend to recruit Europeans already in Syria, and persuade them to use their passports to return and mount attacks in Europe, Israel and the US.
De Kerchove estimated that more than 3,000 Europeans, including women and children, are currently in Syria, have been there or plan to go. That number has increased by 1,000 since the declaration by ISIS in June that it has formed an Islamic Caliphate in the region.
It is clear that De Kerchove believes that these people pose a definitive risk to Europe if they return: “We have seen that in Brussels with the killing of four persons at the Jewish Museum. It raises their level of tolerance of violence to such a level that there is a risk when they come back that killing is something normal,” he said.
Now terror experts are looking at the rise of Khorasan in Syria as a threat to Western interests. “Their focus seems to be on recruiting Western jihadis who are coming to Syria to fight, and equipping them with bomb-making techniques to be able to carry out terrorist attacks on the West,” said Craig Larkin of Kings College in London.
Khorasan is a highly secretive organisation operating in Syria under the cover of the civil war raging in that country. In stark contrast to many other Islamic forces in the region, their members do not make widespread use of social media, and they aim to make any Westerners in their ranks unidentifiable. Unlike most of the other militant groups in Syria which seek to overthrow either Assad, ISIS or both, Khorasan’s focus is on the United States and her allies in the region.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, who is the chief U.S. military spokesman at the Pentagon, said Khorasan was had become a prime target for air strikes in Syria, after intelligence operatives uncovered plans for an “imminent” terror attack against Western interests. “We believe the individuals plotting and planning it were eliminated” in eight U.S. airstrikes overnight, Kirby said in an interview on Good Morning America.
The group includes the bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, who was responsible for the botched ‘underwear bomb’ which was intended to bring down a flight from Europe to Detroit but succeeded only in severely burning the man wearing the bomb. Flight attendents were able to extinguish the fire which ensued, and the bomber was sent to prison.
Al-Asiri also attempted to assassinate a Saudi Prince in 2009 using a bomb hidden in the rectum of its carrier. His younger brother Abdullah volunteered for the operation, but although the bomb detonated as planned, he was the only person killed.