When a group is composed by only a few elements, there is a high possibility that this group is either a Special Forces (SF) Unit or the Brains behind a much larger operation.
The Khorasan is an organisation of such kind: it is made up by 50 veteran Al-Qaeda (AQ) elements, it is deemed mysterious and because it is not spoken of like other Jihadist groups, it is capable of moving around the world almost imperceptibly.
What is then the Khorasan: a SF Unit or the Brains?
The group bears the name of a region in Iran, Khorasan, which means “Land where the sun rises” (Khwar = sun, Asan = to come, coming, about to come). Historically speaking, Khorasan was the Great Afghanistan, covering parts of Central Asia and China's Xinxiang Province, but today Khorasan connotes Iran.
Harsh interpretation of Sunni Islam as a means to bring the Ummah back to its past Islamic purity and, therefore, glory.
Muhsin al-Fadhli; born on April 24, 1981; in Kuwait. According to the US Department of State, he has used the aliases Muhsin Fadhil ‘Ayyid al Fadhli, Muhsin Fadil Ayid Ashur al Fadhli, Abu Majid Samiyah, and Abu Samia; but given the intelligence that he may have recently entered Europe to raise funds, it should be assumed he has created new ones.
Muhsin al-Fadhli is an important piece of the puzzle, not only because he's the alleged leader of Khorasan, or because he is the only publicly identified member of the group, but mainly because he seems to be one of the principal financial nodes of AQ. Al-Fadhli is the charismatic element that glues a vast network of jihadists and may be one of the very few upon whom trust is deposited to raise the funds that fuel Al-Qaeda operations. Capturing him would mean having access to all the network of the Global Jihad Conglomerate (names, nationalities, hierarchical position; non-Muslim collaborators [i.e. elements from the International Left, Pro-Palestine Groups/individuals and Far-Right lone wolves]; bank accounts and connections related to drug, weapons and human trafficking networks). Since Muhsin moves operatives from Pakistan – through Iran and Turkey - to destinations in Syria, North Africa and Europe; nabbing him would also mean that we'd have access to intelligence about the Turkish link to Global Jihad.
To "attack the West in a spectacular fashion", through the use of western recruits to execute the plan; capitalising, thus, on a range of different nationalities.
Concealed explosives, to evade airport security measures. This is particularly worrying given that Khorasan works closely with AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), whose chief bomb-maker is Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri - a Saudi chemist, born on April 18, 1982 in Riyadh – who is known for having created the “underwear bomb”. Reports say that Al-Asiri has recently been recruited by ISIS, and if so this is yet another evidence that despite having different names, all Sunni Jihadist groups have the same goal and are funded by the same set of people.
Question: do Khorasan members actually use these explosives themselves or do they select recruits to use them? The latter is probably more reflective of reality.
Base of Operations
More notably in Syria, for being closer to their main target: the West. It has been reported that under the protection of Al-Nusra (that, according to CriticalThreats.org, receives advice from Khorasan), the group has managed to secure land and buildings in areas surrounding Aleppo. However, it should be assumed that the group maintains four bases of operations: Afghanistan (central nervous system), Iran (logistics), Kuwait (financial), Syria (strategic).
The group most likely settled in Syria to create cells of Afghan and Pakistani fighters to recruit Jihadists with American and European passports.
In 2012, the US Department of State reported that AQ elements in Iran, led by al-Fadhli, operated to move fighters and money (given by Kuwaiti donors) through Turkey to Syria.
But there's one question lingering: if Khorasan makes sure to remain small in numbers, whom are they recruiting for; Al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, ISIS...? Perhaps, they are recruiting lone wolves (offline).
SF Unit or SWOT?
Khorasan's reduced number of operatives, its characteristics, its discreet modus vivendi, its mystification, are all indicative that the group is the brains of Al-Qaeda's. Khorasan is AQ's strategic branch that assesses the conglomerate's Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
Their ability to travel around the world in search for funds and recruits must be protected and that is why only one member of the group is publicly known - having Jihadists, last year, gone to the extent of confirming Muhsin's death, after an American airstrike in Syria, in order to remove him from the security agencies' radar (yet his death was not confirmed by the Pentagon). All the other 49 elements remain obscure, hence adding another layer of security to the group's global operations.
Kuwait is after Muhsin al-Fadhli, who mysteriously escaped prison in 2007 after being convicted for terrorist activities; however all Khorasan roads seem to lead to Kuwait where the organisation's funds are raised. This country deserves our closest attention because of its geo-location: she neighbours Iraq, Iran, the UAE and Bahrain - all centres for cash flow and freedom of travel. Due to Kuwait's financial sector, Khorasan donors could be using it to collect funds on a global scale without trace (as per conversations with a colleague) – therefore rendering counter-terrorist operations against the group very difficult.
The fact that AQ's SWOT Team selected the name “Khorasan” should be interpreted as the group's ambition to eventually take over Iran, as part of the broader Sunni goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East – but this goal for the moment sounds slightly unrealistic, given the present conjuncture in the Middle East, i.e. the spread of the Iranian net in the region.
Al-Qaeda has new blood, with fresh ideas, probably with western training, that is splitting the organisation into different pieces to widen the range of their reach. The strategy is built upon the tribal model (another indication of their desire to return to when "Islam was pure"); but on a larger scale and with a lot of counter-intelligence tactics in the mix. AQ and affiliates make sure they become notorious to throw the dogs off the scent of the central nervous system – and since we don't know their identities, we are working in an environment where just about any Muslim can be a potential member of Khorasan; hence taking us back to religious profiling.
Without proper understanding of the complexity of Global Jihad and how it quickly adapts to change, without proper legal backing, the Pentagon is quite right when it says that it may take us generations to obliterate the phenomenon.
(Image: borrowed from The Khorasan Group: Syria's Al-Qaeda Threat)