Al-Qaeda Dead-Enders Alive, Kicking
While the dramatic U.S. and Arab air attacks this week in Syria on the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) should be welcomed, the real story is the strikes on the shadowy al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group Khorasan.
Who? Yeah, that’s what a lot of folks said.
It turns out that the supposed al-Qaeda on-the-run crowd wasn’t actually surrendering, but instead was hoofing it to the anarchy in Syria to concoct a plot to target Western airliners with explosives.
From what we know, an al Qaeda-run terrorist cell, run by an Osama bin Laden acolyte, was planning to smuggle some sort of newfangled bomb onto a Western aircraft for detonation in or over Europe, the United States or somewhere in between.
Thankfully, due to super-sharp U.S. intelligence, brave American aviators, and others doing their patriotic duty to protect Lady Liberty, the kibosh was put on that “imminent” terrorist threat — for the moment at least.
But the revelation of this heretofore unheard of al-Qaeda group raises a number of troubling issues.
First, the fact that Khorasan is run by Muhsin al Fadhli, who was reportedly aware of the 9/11 plot while an al-Qaeda up-’n’-comer, means that “core al-Qaeda” (that is, the 9/11 crowd) isn’t dead and done for — ideologically or operationally.
The other interesting tidbit is that this terror cell doesn’t appear to be seized by the to-and-fro of the Syrian civil war, but was reportedly primarily interested in using the conflict’s chaos as convenient cover from which to wallop the West.
Terrorist groups crave lawless, ungoverned territory to set up camp; unpressured, they use these areas for planning, training and operating against their next victim.
Another disturbing element of this still-unfolding story is that the Syria-based Khorasan may have been working with a team of Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)-trained bomb makers.
AQAP explosives expert, Ibrahim al Asiri — of underwear, printer cartridge and surgically-implanted bomb fame — may have dispatched some of his minions to build an explosive device for a Western passport-holding Khorasan operative.
So reportedly we have a Yemeni AQAP bomb, a core al-Qaeda-inspired operation in the Middle East, a willing Western recruit and international aviation as a target. That certainly qualifies as a global terror plot to me.
Though the most recent conspiracy was hopefully quashed with the pounding from American air strikes, you can almost hear al-Qaeda saying: “We’re baaaack . . . ”
Finally, it’s fair to suggest that we also have a competition between the likes of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda for foot soldiers, funding and followers; a 9/11-style attack could burnish the flagging core al-Qaeda brand.
No question: The Islamic State is currently the “prettiest” terrorist in the room for violent Islamist extremists.
Indeed, while ISIS is a major threat to Middle East security, stability and humanity — and could strike the West — Khorasan is arguably the bloodthirsty wolf closest to our cabin right now.
While there’s no question that the battle to smash the Islamic State is important, the 9/11 al-Qaeda dead-enders are still alive and kicking — and looking to kill.
- Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in The Boston Herald