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You might or might not be familiar with the name Khorasan but apparently US officials consider this extremist group to be more dangerous in some respect than the Islamic State. In fact, since the beginning of US military operations in Iraq and Syria last September, Khorasan has been a major target of US strikes along with the Islamic State.
But what is Khorasan?
The term Khorasan originally refers to a historical region spanning parts of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. However, with regard to current US military operations, Khorasan refers to the name of a group of al-Qaeda operatives that have joined the ongoing civil war in Syria.
According to US officials, Khorasan operatives’ primary goal is not to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are not trying to seize territories or resources either. Rather, the story goes, they are a group of al-Qaeda operatives that was dispatched to Syria to recruit battle hardened Western jihadists –and their valuable passports. The plan would be to recruit these committed Western Muslims in Syria and then send them back to their countries of origin to carry out terrorist attacks. In other words, if the Islamic State wants to recreate a caliphate, Khorasan wants to repeat something like 9/11. This has led publications like The New York Times to write that Khorasan poses a “more direct threat” to the United States and Europe than the Islamic State.
What has surprised many observers is not the emergence of yet another Islamist extremist group in Syria (we have lost the count by now), but the fact that before the beginning of US strikes nobody had heard about Khorasan and, despite this, the United States rapidly compared the threat represented by the new group to that of the well-established Islamic State.
The Middle East is a region especially keen to give credit to conspiracy theories involving the US government, therefore, it comes as no surprise that many explanations of the sudden emergence of Khorasan have been provided (i.e. some more serious than others -just browse the internet). Some people, for example, suggested that Khorasan is in fact an expedient used by the United States to cover strikes against Islamist groups in Syria that enjoy significant popular support among the local population.
Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, some news outlets reported statements by militants of the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusrah Front saying that Khorasan was dispatched to Syria by Ayman al-Zawahiri with the task of training and improving the capabilities of their group, perhaps to increase al-Nusrah’s ability to compete with the Islamic State.
As for now, the nature and purpose of Khorasan remains quite elusive, time will probably give us some clearer answers…