“We don’t have any specific, credible information about specific plans that they [the “Khorasan Group”] had. On the other hand, the intelligence did lead us to believe that they were in the process of getting very close to the execution phase of general plans that we know that they were interested in,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in an interview today with Yahoo’s Katie Couric.
“So for some time now we’ve been tracking plots to conduct attacks in the United States or Europe. We believe that that attack plotting was imminent, in that they had plans to conduct attacks external to Syria,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Close to the execution phase of general plans? Imminent plotting for an attack somewhere outside Syria?
The New York Times reports:
[O]ne senior counterterrorism official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the group might not have chosen the target, method or even the timing for a strike. An intelligence official said separately that the group was “reaching a stage where they might be able to do something.”
When government officials make vacuous statements like these and warn about the “imminent” threat posed by America’s latest diabolical foe, is it any wonder that conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones find it so easy to capture a mass audience?
Those Americans less inclined to question official statements and willing to accept that airstrikes against a terrorist group they never heard of must nevertheless be a good thing if that group was about to attack the U.S., would be well advised to ask this question: does an administration that just presented its strategy for degrading and destroying ISIS, actually have a clear strategy if its war against ISIS is now also targeting one of ISIS’s principal adversaries?
What is being discussed is not a “new terrorist group,” but rather a specialized cell that has gradually been established within, or on, the fringes of an already existing al-Qaeda franchise, the so-called Nusra Front. What this seems to be about is a jihadi cell consisting of veteran al-Qaeda members who have arrived to the Nusra Front in Syria from abroad, mainly via Iran, and who are in direct contact with al-Qaeda’s international leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself believed to be based in Pakistan.
Whatever one decides to call it, this is not likely to be an independent organization, but rather a network-within-the-network, assigned to deal with specific tasks. Most likely it has no fixed name at all, and the “Khorasan Group” label has simply been invented for convenience by U.S. intelligence or adopted from informal references within the Nusra Front to these men as being, for example, “our brothers from Khorasan.”
The issue of the name is significant because it appears that from the vantage point of most Syrians, the U.S. strikes were simply strikes on Nusra and the implications are clear:
You can debate whether hitting ISIS really helps the Syrian regime. But whatever its merits, hitting Nusra definitely does.
— Mike Giglio (@mike_giglio) September 23, 2014
U.S. officials have repeatedly said that a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS will not accomplish its ultimate goal of destroying the organization without a ground operation involving Syrian opposition fighters. How will those fighters be recruited if the U.S. is seen as having already further undermined the war against Assad?
Targeting Nusra in #Aleppo can be viewed as a direct help for Assad forces
— al-Gharib الغريب (@troublejee) September 23, 2014
Whatever the U.S. might claim about imminent plots being hatched by the Khorasan Group, its leader is apparently viewed as having played a crucial role in the fight against Assad. Indeed, it seems somewhat more plausible that a guy who trains snipers would be focused on the war in Syria rather than some vague plot directed elsewhere.
The US air raid targeted a JN trainer He is a very well known figure & an important asset for jihad in sniping training Abu Yusuf AlTurki
— أبوالحسنين الشامي (@MohammedGhazzal) September 23, 2014
Whether attacking Jabhat al Nusra has made America any safer is highly debatable but it seems much more likely this will help ISIS — and Assad.
Will these U.S. bombs align Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State back together into a single front (even undeclared)?
— Daniele Raineri (@DanieleRaineri) September 23, 2014
And lastly there’s this footnote: New evidence that Twitter obediently takes directions from the U.S. government:
Observation: about 5 hours before the US airstrikes started in #Syria all main Jabhat an-Nusra accounts got deleted (again) by Twitter …
— Pieter Van Ostaeyen (@p_vanostaeyen) September 23, 2014