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Who is Khorasan?

On September 22, the U.S. military expanded its reach to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and launched Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria.  The attacks were commanded from warplanes, remotely piloted aircrafts, and ships firing cruise missiles.  Though most of the media attention was focused on ISIS, another terrorist group was also targeted that day.  The Defense Department confirmed that action was taken against a small network of al-Qaeda-related operatives known as Khorasan. But exactly who is Khorasan?

The Khorasan Group is an al-Qaeda affiliate that has focused their efforts on a successful Western attack.  Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri has apparently sent the group to Syria specifically to focus on developing explosives and recruiting Westerners to carry out lethal attacks.  The group is made up of about fifty militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Although the name was coined by U.S. officials, Khorasan refers to a historical region established by the Sasanian dynasty in the third century encompassing northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, and northern Afghanistan.  In the seventh century, Khorasan became a part of the Umayyad Caliphate and embraced Islamic culture.  The term khorasan is used by modern Jihadist groups that cite the “black banners,” symbolizing the ancient Islamic culture.  The black banner represents radical Islamic ideology.

The group implanted themselves within the local al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra and was allegedly led by leader Muhsin al-Fadhli until the September 22 airstrikes. Al-Fadhli had ties with Osama bin Laden and had premeditated knowledge of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Recent intelligence has pointed towards Khorasan collaborating with the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Sources reveal that the group is testing new ways to get explosives past airport security in the U.S.  Khorasan may have been part of the reason the Transportation Security Administration tightened up security in July to ban uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights.

For only the second time since U.S. airstrikes began on September 22, the U.S. military targeted the Khorasan group this past Wednesday night in the Idlib province of northern Syria.  French bomb maker, David Drugeon is believed to be the target of this strike.  Drugeon was a twenty-four year-old convert to Islam that was in the process of developing a bomb for an attack on the U.S.

Drugeon converted to Islam when he was only fourteen.  In April 2010, he moved to Pakistan where he joined the jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  This is where he learned how to make bombs and then brought that knowledge to Syria to join the Khorasan Group sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.

Drugeon was spearheading a terrorist attack on the West by developing a bomb made out of clothing dripped in explosive solution and explosives concealed in electronics.

Although Khorasan has been out of the national media, Attorney General Eric Holder says that Khorasan has been on the U.S. radar for the past two years.  However, with these recent revelations of a real attack being planned on U.S. airports, are we really prepared to ward of threats?

Congress promulgated authority to the TSA through 49 U.S.C. § 114.  This statute lays out the TSA’s function, screening operations, requisite training, duties and powers, etc.  The TSA also uses layers of security within the aviation system including intelligence analysis, watch lists, random canine screening teams, federal air marshals, and federal flight deck officers.

The Department of Homeland Security also has the authority to implement programs to protect our airports.  DHS employs risk mitigation techniques that most citizens are not aware of: pre-departure vetting, enhanced explosives screening, explosive detection K-9 teams, and they also maintain a Passenger Name Record database.

As mentioned, in July, U.S. security officials tightened security for airlines with direct flights into the United States.  Security officials received reports that AQAP was designing explosives in electronics and shoes that could avoid detection in airports.  Passengers now must turn on electronic devices or risk having them confiscated.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told a reporter that despite the recent airstrike, the Khorasan Group “remains a dangerous entity.”  The recent revelations of a French bomb maker developing a specific plan to harm the U.S. can be unnerving.  Security measures are constantly changing to combat the intelligence that security officials are gathering and to protect passengers at American airports.  Agencies like TSA and DHS have the authority to vary their mandatory security measures, but it may be the airstrikes in Syria that is the best defense right now for our border.

Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Cohen (License)


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