Foreign Policy Anaysts: The Khorasan Group Is Not New, But The Name Is

On Sept. 13, The New York Times reported that American officials said “the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent” on striking the United States homeland, but foreign policy analysts and experts argue the term “Khorasan group” is nothing more than a name created by the Obama administration.

“What is being discussed is not a ‘new terrorist group,’ but rather a specialized cell that has gradually been established within, or on, the fringes of an already existing al-Qaida franchise, the so-called Nusra Front,” said Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In fact, Lund asserts that the “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.'”

But it is a term that has gained popularity with administration officials, including President Barack Obama.

On Sept. 23, Obama stood on the South Lawn to deliver a statement on airstrikes in Syria and said that the U.S. “also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al-Qaida operatives in Syria who are known as the Khorasan group.”

The Pentagon also used the term in its announcement the same day that the U.S. had targeted other groups in Syria to disrupt imminent attack plotting by “a network of seasoned al-Qaida veterans — sometimes referred to as the Khorasan group” that had sought refuge in Syria.

Another analyst who is skeptical of the term is Imran Khan, a foreign correspondent for Al Jazeera based on Doha, Qatar, who said he called contacts in the region to find out who the group was.

“To say I drew a blank would be an understatement. Reactions ranged from a hearty laugh to confusion. The name was new,” he writes.

Khan even called a source who openly supports ISIS and is a veteran of Jihad in Afghanistan and he responded, “Khorasan? I don’t know that name. I don’t know who they are.”

He added that it is not a name that Jihadists know or use.

However, a former intelligence officer argues the name is not familiar for a reason.

“Khorasan Group isn’t a name that trips off the tongue. It isn’t sexy. It wasn’t appearing in newspapers and on websites every day. It wasn’t being talked about in Washington — until now. That’s because its name and organization were classified information. The fact that you had, in all likelihood, never heard of Al Qaeda’s Khorasan Group demonstrates the importance of the security placed around any information about this group and confusion in the White House about Al Qaeda,” writes Joshua Katz, Managing Partner with The Enright Group and a former Army Ranger and CIA Operations Officer.

“I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst told Time magazine.

“If senior members from a company’s headquarters go work in a branch office, are they still part of the main office or a super empowered part of the branch?” added Peritz.

Even if the Khorasan group is simply a new name to describe an old threat, Lund says using it “makes no sense either in Arabic or any other language” since “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.”

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