al-Qaeda offshoot ‘poses a greater threat to West than Isis’

SHAFAQNA – A new terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda and headed by a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle could be a greater threat to the West than Islamic State (Isis), US officials have warned.
Like Isis, Khorasan, a shadowy cell, has grown in strength over the past year thanks to the conflict in Syria. While its more high-profile rivals are focused on building a caliphate, Khorasan is said to favour attacks on the West.
At the heart of its strategy, say US officials, is a far more familiar method: devising plots to blow up airliners and other targets. The group is recruiting fighters with western passports who are more able to travel freely.
It was the threat of Khorasan and its links to bomb makers from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that led Washington to ban uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights to the US from Europe and the Middle East earlier this year, officials revealed.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, admitted last week that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as Islamic State”. His comments were the first public acknowledgement by a US official of the group’s existence.
While the Obama administration has emphasised the threat posed by Isis, officials have been less forthcoming on Khorasan, whose operatives are al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who travelled to Syria to work with the Nusra Front, the network’s affiliate there and a rival to Isis. Khorasan jihadists dispatched by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader, are trying to lure Europeans and Americans fighting in the country.
Leading the group is Muhsin al-Fadhli, 33, a senior al-Qaeda operative who was so close to Bin Laden that he was one of the few who knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, said The New York Times. “What you have is a growing body of extremists . . . who are taking advantage of the ungoverned areas and creating informal ad hoc groups that are not directly aligned with Isis or Nusra,” a former senior law enforcement official told the newspaper.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been at the forefront of attempts to create bombs that can be slipped past airport security undetected. It has placed three bombs on airliners bound for the US, although none succeeded in downing an aircraft.
The emergence of Khorosan raises concerns that Washington risks overlooking the more traditional threat still posed by al-Qaeda as officials focus their efforts on tackling Isis. The Obama administration admits the crisis in Syria has given rise to fresh concerns about al-Qaeda’s ability to rebuild in new offshoots.

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