U.S. intelligence officials believe the chances of an attack on the U.S. homeland or on American assets overseas are growing exponentially with a Syria-based group comprised of veteran Al Qaeda members intent on developing the capability and resources to plan a successful terrorist attack against America.
U.S. officials and Middle East experts said the Khorasan group, which has risen from the ashes of Syria's ongoing bloody civil war, was dispatched from Pakistan at the behest of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. The State Department told the New York Times that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative. The State Department described al-Fadhli as a close associate of Osama bin Laden's who was entrusted with knowledge of the 9/11 attacks before they took place.
The CIA declined to comment to TheBlaze about the Khorasan group. The terrorist organization was first made public last week in an exclusive report in the Associated Press.
Director of U.S. Intelligence James Clapper spoke briefly at a hearing last Thursday about the terror cell, which is working in conjunction with Syria's main Al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. Clapper told lawmakers that Khorasan "is potentially yet another threat to the homeland.”
In this undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the Islamic State group march in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
The emergence of Khorasan just as the United States readies a strategy to fight the Islamic State is complicating matters for military and intelligence planners. Observers say U.S. airstrikes in Iraq alone won't be enough to stop the Islamic State and many terror analysts say that ground troops and strikes in Syria may be necessary to eliminate the threat.
"The Khorasan cell is evidence that the Al Qaeda core group is still alive and well and coordinating planning for attacks on the West," Jim Phillips, a senior expert on Al Qaeda and the Middle East with the conservative Heritage Foundation, told TheBlaze.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and senior adviser to three U.S. presidents on the Middle East and South Asia, said Khorasan's capability to resource in Syria what it needs to launch an attack poses a direct threat to the U.S. homeland and assets.
"The Khorasan threat shows the old Al Qaeda core remains extremely dangerous since this is their plot to combine their expertise with Al Nusra fighters and [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] bomb-making skills. This is the most deadly threat to Europe and America today."
Operating in the lawless war zones in Syria and Iraq makes it is easier for Al Qaeda and much more difficult for Western intelligence agencies.
"This may be one reason why they are using the chaos to their benefit — they can train and recruit fighters with visa access back to the United States or country of origin out of sight of U.S. and European intelligence," a U.S. official familiar with the group told TheBlaze.
TheBlaze TV's For The Record this week will examines how the threat from the Islamic State and Khorasan is the same threat Al Qaeda has propagated in its doctrine since the group was founded.
Former CIA officer Brian Fairchild told TheBlaze that the West must devise a strategy to conquer the ideology that is luring so many Muslims into the extremist movements around the world. He said this will be the biggest challenge for the United States and Europe.
In a previous interview, Fairchild noted that after 9/11, the CIA focused primarily on paramilitary operations and targeted drone strikes, but failed in its “ability to infiltrate organizations and recruit the necessary assets to curb these organizations and counteract the ideology" before it spread in various Muslim communities.
James Carafano, a senior defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Zawahri's plan "totally fits the [Al Qaeda] modus operandi — they tried this in Yemen when they established AQAP and they did the same recently in India."
He said Al Qaeda likes the security of "predictability and best practices. They like to stick with what works and by operating in Syria they can send recruits who are planning to attack the U.S. or Europe through Turkey and then they can find their way back home."
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