With the US beginning a military campaign against the Islamic State group, another band of Islamist militants emerged as a direct threat to the security of the United States and Europe. The Khorasan group [named after Khorasan Province in North East of Iran] is one of al-Qaida’s affiliates in Syria and possibly one of the most secretive organizations operating under the cover of Syria's civil war. Unlike many of the other groups in Syria that seek to overthrow President Bashar Assad, or the Islamic State, Khorasan has expressed little interest in the Syrian national conflict. The group’s main goal is hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack.
The chief US military spokesman at the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said Khorasan became a prime target of the airstrikes 22 September 2014 inside 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 US airstrikes overnight, Kirby said in an American television interview (ABC-TV's Good Morning America). During a later news briefing, Pentagon officials said the airstrikes were "very successful," but that it was too early to confirm the full extent of the damage and casualties inflicted on the militants.
“We believe the Khorasan group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe, or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands," Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters at the Pentagon.
In total, US Central Command forces conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets located west of Aleppo, to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.
In contrast to the much larger Islamic State group, Khorasan members keep a low profile in social media. Their videos and Internet postings generally do not depict identifiable Westerners in their ranks, even though Khorasan is said to have attracted the second-largest contingent of foreign fighters in the Syrian civil war, after the Islamic State.
Terrorism experts claim Khorasan is made up of al-Qaida members from across the Middle East, South Asia and Europe, with a majority coming from Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. But the group also has been able to recruit Europeans and Americans who came to Syria to fight with other jihadist groups. 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.
Khorasan was an ancient province that included parts of modern Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Khorasan may be regarded as comprising the whole of Persian territory lying between the Caspian and the Afghan border near Herat. On the north it was bounded by the Aral Caspian desert, from which it was bounded by the long narrow strip of Akhal Tekke Turkoman territory occupied by Russia; on the south it was severed from the rest of Persia by the Great Salt Desert; on the east a strip of savage, though fertile country, overrun by ' separates it from Afghanistan; and on the west the decrepit province of Astrabad.
Khorasan is the name by which the Afghans, Baluch, and Brahui designated the region known to Europeans as Afghanistan and Baluchistan. The ancient Khorasan stretched far into Chinese Tartary, and was occupied by several colonies. It had the Indus on the east, the desert of Yeza on the west, the river Amu Darya (Oxus) on the north, and the Arabian Sea on the south
Modern Iran's Khorasan Province is located in northeast part of the country and has 150,000 Hectares of arable land. Khorasan Province has population of over 6 million, with 3 million of its people living in rural areas. Khorasan Province is the largest province of Iran (315,000 Square Kilometers), and produces many agricultural crops: Rice, wheat, rye, barley, cotton, potato, sorghum, corn, fruits, sugar cane, beef, and poultry. Mashhad (meaning "place of martyrdom") is located in Khorasan Province near the Turkmenistan border with a population of over 2.6 million. This city contains the famous shrine of Imam Reza and is a major pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims.
By 1995 nearly 3 million Afghans had sought refuge outside Afghanistan, including 1.2 million in Pakistan and 1.7 million in Iran, of whom 450,000 lived in Khorasan province. Persia has been a center of trade and a main stop on the Silk Road from time immemorial, but today, as modern Iran, it is cursed by its central location. As the chief transit route to the West for drug traffickers from neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran is the country most affected by the Afghan drug trade. Drug convoys escorted by heavily armed Baluch tribesmen blast their way into Iran’s Khorasan province along Iran’s long frontier with Afghanistan.
Khorasan's leader is Muhsin al-Fadhli, once believed to have had a very close relationship with Osama bin Laden. Al-Fadhli was born 24 April 1981 in Kuwait. He has used the aliases Muhsin Fadhil ‘Ayyid al Fadhli, Muhsin Fadil Ayid Ashur al Fadhli, Abu Majid Samiyah, and Abu Samia. He spent much of his life in Iran, though, where he reportedly directed al-Qaida’s Iranian branch after the terror network's former leader in Iran, Yasin al-Suri, was detained. Al-Suri eventually was released and returned to his position in charge of al-Qaida in Iran. Fadhli then was reassigned, reputedly to Syria, where he is believed to still reside.
Information available to the US Government indicated that al-Fadhli fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan where he served as a bodyguard and second-in-command for an al-Qaida leader. He also fought against Russian forces in Chechnya, where he trained in the use of firearms, antiaircraft guns and explosives. Information available to the US Government showed that in early September 2001, al-Fadhli possibly received forewarning that US interests would be struck.
Al-Fadhli reportedly replaced Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (better known as Yasin al-Suri) as al-Qaida’s senior facilitator and financier in Iran. Al-Fadhli was among the few trusted al-Qaida leaders who received advance notification that terrorists would strike the United States on September 11, 2001. He raised money to finance the October 6, 2002 attack on the French ship MV Limburg off the coast of Yemen, which killed one, injured four crew members, and released 50,000 barrels of crude oil along 45 miles of coastline. Muhammad al-Hamati [AKA Abu `Asim al-Makki], an al-Qaida operative and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, had called al-Fadhli in the wake of the attack on the MV LIMBURG, informing him that the first operation on the French oil tanker had been completed. Al-Fadhli was also suspected of having a connection to an attack against US Marines on the Kuwaiti Faylaka Island on October 8, 2002 during which one US Marine was killed.
In February 2003, al-Fadhli and three other suspects were convicted in a Kuwaiti court and sentenced to five years imprisonment for providing funding for terrorist activities and military training in Afghanistan for purposes of terrorism. In June 2005, Saudi authorities placed him on their list of wanted terrorists in connection with a series of al-Qaida attacks in Saudi Arabia. On February 15, 2005, the US Department of the Treasury designated al-Fadhli under E.O. 13224, which provides authority to sanction terrorists and those who support terrorists or terrorist acts.
On 17 February 2005, the UN Security Council’s al-Qa‘ida Sanctions Committee listed al-Fadhli for participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetration of al-Qa‘ida acts. The listing subjects him to international freezing of assets, a travel ban, and an embargo on supply of equipment and other legal assistance. At that time, Muhsin al-Fadhli was considered an al-Qa‘ida leader in the Gulf countries and provided support to Iraq-based fighters against US and multinational forces. He was also considered a major facilitator to Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi and prior to that was involved in several attacks.
Al-Fadhli began working with al-Qa’ida’s Iran-based facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by the Iranians. He was subsequently released by the Iranians in 2011 and went on to assume the leadership of the facilitation network from Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (a.k.a. Yasin al Suri) later that year, after the U.S. Government openly identified and offered a reward for al Suri. In addition to providing funding for al-Qa’ida activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this network worked to move fighters and money through Turkey to support al-Qa’ida-affiliated elements in Syria. Al-Fadhli also leveraged his extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.
The US Treasury took action against this al-Qa’ida funding and support network in July 2011 when it designated Yasin al-Suri and five other al-Qa’ida members pursuant to E.O. 13224. This network uses Iran as a critical transit point and operates under an agreement between al-Qa’ida and the Iranian government. Under the terms of the agreement between al-Qa’ida and Iran, al-Qa’ida must refrain from conducting any operations within Iranian territory and recruiting operatives inside Iran while keeping Iranian authorities informed of their activities. In return, the Government of Iran gave the Iran-based al-Qa’ida network freedom of operation and uninhibited ability to travel for extremists and their families. Al-Qa’ida members who violate these terms run the risk of being detained by Iranian authorities. Yasin al-Suri agreed to the terms of this agreement with Iran with the knowledge of now-deceased al-Qa’ida leader ‘Atiyah ‘Abd al Rahman.
On 18 October 2012 the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program offered rewards for information on two key Iran-based facilitators and financiers of the al-Qaida terrorist organization. The US Department of State authorized a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to the location of Iran-based senior facilitator and financier Muhsin al-Fadhli and up to $5 million for information leading to the location of his deputy, Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi. Al-Fadhli and al-Harbi facilitate the movement of funds and operatives through Iran on behalf of the al-Qaida terrorist network. Both men are wanted by Saudi authorities in connection with their terrorist activities, and al-Fadhli is wanted by authorities in Kuwait on terrorism-related charges.
The United States believes that the US strike in Syria on 22 September 2014 killed Mohsin al-Fadhli, the leader of Khorasan, a US official told Reuters on 24 September 2014. "We believe he is dead," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – Khorasan Province (IS-KP) primarily in the eastern province of Nangarhar remained a concern for the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the international community. Through attacks against a United Nations (UN) vehicle and the ANDSF in September 2015, IS-KP has demonstrated that it is operationally emergent.
By late 2015 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province had progressed from its initial exploratory phase to a point where they were openly fighting the Taliban for the establishment of a safe haven, and are becoming more operationally active. IS-KP had successfully seized pockets of terrain from the Taliban in Nangarhar Province. The group claimed an improvised explosive device (IED) attack against a UN vehicle in September 2015 and conducted its first attack against the ANDSF later that month when it attacked as many as 10 checkpoints in the same day in Achin district, Nangarhar. The group continued to recruit disaffected Taliban and formerly Taliban-aligned fighters, most notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which publically declared allegiance to IS-KP in August 2015.
The existence of extremist groups in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province, which could develop an interest in attacking US persons, allies, and interests, required a US presence in the region that can continue to monitor and address threats, even as the United States builds an Afghan capability to deter terrorist exploitation of Afghan territory.
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