By Greg Richter
The Islamic State (ISIS) may be grabbing the headlines at the moment as the United States plans to hit targets in Syria with airstrikes while building a coalition of ground support, but there are other groups who the United States also should be focusing on, according to a report in The New York Times.
Of particular concern is a group called Khorasan, also based in Syria. It is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli and may be more interested in bombing the U.S. homeland than is ISIS.
Al-Qaida members from the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa are believed to make up the group, but little else is known of who they are. It is thought that they are planning terror attacks using concealed explosives.
The Times describes Fadhli as a senior al-Qaida operative who was close enough to Osama bin Laden that he was one of the few people who knew of the 9/11 attacks before they happened.
He is believed to have arrived in Syria from Iran, where he was one of several al-Qaida members who fled Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. He was identified as al-Qaida’s leader in Iran in 2012 by the U.S. State Department.
National intelligence director James R. Clapper told the Times that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”
The chairs of the House and Senate Intellegence committees addressed the Times story Sunday on “Face the Nation.”
Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers said he disagrees that the ISIS threat is less than that of Khorasan.
“It’s different,” he said, saying that the Khorasan group is a more immediate threat to the homeland as ISIS continues to consolidate the area it has taken over is Iraq and Syria.
Rogers has discussed the group before, preferring to call them “forward deployed al-Qaida operatives” who are working with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to devise terror plots to bring down airplanes.
“That means it’s serious,” Rogers said. “They have both capability, financing and people. All of that’s dangerous.”
ISIS has the same things, but also access to Americans and Europeans with western passports who can easily slip back into the country to carry out attacks, he said.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told “Face the Nation,” she shares Rogers’ concern.
She described some of ISIS’ atrocities including a photo she has seen of a young girl about 6 years old wearing a gingham party dress and mary jane shoes who had been beheaded by ISIS.
“This could be an American child. It could be a Eurpoean child. It could be a child anywhere,” Feinstein said.
Also of concern in Syria is al-Nusra. Jennifer Cafarella, who works as a Syria analyst for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, told the Times that American airstrikes could benefit the group if ISIS is knocked out and no one else fills the void.
“There is definitely a threat that, if not conducted as a component of a properly tailored strategy within Syria, the American strikes would allow the Nusra Front to fill a vacuum in eastern Syria,” she said.