Pentagon: Khorasan Group Leader Killed by US Airstrike in Syria

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The leader of a shadowy al-Qaida cell that American officials said was plotting attacks against the U.S. and its allies was killed early this month by a “kinetic strike” in Syria, the Pentagon confirmed.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon’s press operations chief, revealed that Muhsin al-Fadhli, the leader of a network of veteran al-Qaida operatives known as the Khorasan Group, was killed on July 8 while traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada, Syria.

It remains unclear whether al-Fadhli was killed by a drone or a piloted aircraft.

The U.S. State Department had authorized a $7 million reward for information leading to the location of the Khorasan Group leader, who was previously based in Iran. Al-Fadhli may be linked to Iran’s alleged role in the al-Qaida attacks against the U.S. homeland on Sept. 11, 2001.

“He was a senior al-Qaida facilitator who was among the few trusted al-Qaida leaders who received advance notification of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States,” Capt. Davis reportedly said in a statement.

The Navy captain also accused Al-Fadhli of being involved in the October 2002 terrorist attacks against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait and on the French ship MV Limburg.

“His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaida against the United States and its allies and partners,” the captain reportedly declared.

The first round of U.S. airstrikes in Syria back in September 2014 were primarily aimed at the Khorasan Group.

At the time, the al-Qaida offshoot was reportedly made up of an estimated 50 seasoned jihadi fighters in Aleppo, primarily from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pentagon described Khorasan as an offshoot of the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, al Nusra Front.

U.S. intelligence officials had detected a plot by the Khorasan Group to recruit Western nationals in Syria to smuggle explosives onto U.S.-bound airliners.

Classified U.S. intelligence assessments revealed that the Khorasan group had joined forces with bomb-makers from al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate to pilot new methods aimed at slipping explosives past airport security.

“Officials were worried they would provide these sophisticated explosives to their western recruits who could sneak them on to US-bound flights,” notes the AP.

“The Khorasan group remains a threat, US officials said. Its existence demonstrates that core al-Qaida in Pakistan can still threaten the West, despite the damage done to that organization by years of drone missile strikes,” it adds.

Khorasan is an ancient name for a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, parts of India, and other surrounding countries.

“Jihadists consider the Khorasan to be the area where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon,” The Long War Journal reported in May 2012. “The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.”

The Khorasan Group leader reportedly mediated the split between the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria and the Islamic Sate (ISIS/ISIL), reports International Business Times (IBT).

“Fadhli was born in Kuwait and had previously fought with al-Qaida in Afghanistan before he reportedly became the head of the militant group’s branch in Iran,” notes IBT. “He was highly supportive of al-Qaida in Iraq, which later became the group we now recognize as ISIS. In mid-2013, he went to Syria where he joined al-Qaida’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra.”

“Al Qaeda’s senior leaders dispatched trusted operatives to Syria once the dispute between Al Nusrah and ISIS became heated,” reported The Long War Journal in March 2014. “Therefore, al Fadhli’s presence inside Syria makes sense in the context of al-Qaida’s decision to reshuffle its personnel.”