In recent years, experts from a number of countries have started mentioning the growing threat that the Khorasan caliphate terrorist group poses to Syria, Iraq, and a number of Central Asian states. Its activities have been reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Muslim South Asian countries of the CIS. After the so-called “Arab Spring” even a casual reader could notice the growing popularity of Islamist and jihadist groups, when one terrorist organization is being succeeded by another. Once one such group is getting banned across the globe or ceases its operations due to successful anti-terrorist operations conducted by a number of states, then the backbone of such a group is getting re-branded only to continue its operations, sometimes those groups receive names that are similar to those that certain existing groups have. For instance, the term “Khorasan” itself is pretty common among the Persian-speaking peoples.
In one of its articles The New York Times would note:
American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior al-Qaeda operative.
There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, which was described by several intelligence, law enforcement and military officials as being made up of Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.
The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., said on Thursday that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”
The American intelligence community believes that the Khorasan is an al-Qaeda branch that was deployed across the Arabian Peninsula. Noting the growing danger of Khorasan, the chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, in one of his speeches in 2014, has specifically stressed that this group is devoted to carrying terrorist attacks on airplanes. He would add that the group has everything it needs to launch those: the money, technical equipment and trained gunmen, ready. The militants of this terrorist cell are particularly interested in the possibility of using an untraceable, ‘anacoustic’ explosives. The threat they present is being aggravated by the fact that they have a lot of Western residents with legitimate papers in their ranks.
The terrorist group that goes under the name of Khorasan, that is connected with the almost universally banned al-Qaeda, has been operating in Syria for years which is confirmed by a number of Western reports. This group would be frequently mentioned by Western media sources during the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when it was forced to relocate from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Its goal was to create the Caliphate of Khorasan in the Nangarhar Province with its capital in Jalalabad.
It is believed that Khorasan was created more than twenty years ago by a Egyptian that goes under the name of Mohammed Islambuli, brother of Egypt’s famous jihadist who participated in the assisnation of the President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, in 1981. Islubuli would undergo extensive training in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1990s. The group he created would operate both across the Central Asian and Middle Eastern states. As early as 2012, Khorasan militants started operating in Syria and Yemen, becoming active allies of yet another illegal terrorist group – the Jabhat Al-Nusra.
By the spring of 2015, the “Afghan wing” of ISIS, formerly operating primarily in Pakistan, managed to infiltrate the north of Afghanistan, replacing the cells of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani network. Operations of ISIS militant groups up to a thousand men were reported in various parts of Afghanistan. According to existing reports, these militants are mostly immigrants from the countries of the former USSR (in particular from the South Asian region, from the South Caucasus), who previously fought in Iraq and Syria before they were sent to the border areas of Turkmenistan, where they were joined by local radicals and former activists of the Islamic political party of Afghanistan, the Sunni Islam. As a result, militants loyal to the Khorasan caliphate announced the establishment of a province that they would command, which encompasses the territories of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
After the successful anti-terrorist operation that Russia launched in Syria, supported by the efforts of other states, we’ve witnessed ISIS being pushed back both in Syria and Iraq. Upon losing control of the majority of oilfields in the region, former ISIS militants started moving to Afghanistan to join the Khorasan caliphate. In many respects this process was aggravated by the desire most militants shared to establish control over yet another lucrative business – Afghan heroin trade that is capable of producing incomes comparable to those that ISIS was getting from black market oil trade in Syria and Iraq. Another no less significant factor in the recent rise of the Khorasan caliphate is its ability to get fresh recruits in the Central Asian states. As a result, a new large extremist group of several thousand men called Khorasan is being created along the borders of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The activities of the emissaries of the Khorasan caliphate in particular, are facilitated by the fact that about 2,000 citizens of Tajikistan alone have already undergone a war of jihad in Syria and Iraq, some of them have already returned home or infiltrated Afghan territories.
So it’s no wonder that the Khorasan caliphate is pretty active in certain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan that remain out of reach of the government forces, the areas which were previously uncontested homeland of the Taliban. Preachers, propagandists, financial couriers and other “activists” of terrorist cells are coming into contact with Afghan cells, which are engaged in recruitment activities among local radical Islamists. An important role is played by militants of Afghan and Tajik origin who return home after the war of jihad in Syria and Iraq, making proficient recruiters, propagandists, instructors.
The return of the almost forgotten group Khorasan caliphate to the center stage of international terrorism is, with a doubt, is a sign of internal dynamics that exists within the jihadist structures. Now it is already clear to everyone that the project of the so-called Islamic state has come to an abrupt end. The militants of ISIS seek employment other groups, including such terrorist organization as Jabhat al-Nusra. It is possible that the Khorasan caliphate would try to present a reincarnation of ISIS ideas, especially in a situation when they have territorial claims in Pakistan and Afghanistan, similar to those that served a major attraction for militants that were seeking a terrorist organization to join.
Valeriy Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”