What is Khorasan?
September 24, 2014
By Stephen Gowans
Part of Washington’s legal defense of its violation of Syrian sovereignty in launching airstrikes against ISIS targets on Syrian soil is self-defense against the Khorasan Group, an organization whose name US officials hadn’t uttered until a few days ago and which Syrian rebels say they’ve never heard of and which appears to have no independent existence apart from al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, which cooperates militarily with CIA-directed rebels seeking to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad.
On September 20, US officials publicly expressed concern about the Khorasan Group, which they described as an offshoot of the Nusra Front. US officials told reporters that “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.” 
Yesterday, US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes announced that Khorasan “had very clear and concrete ambitions to launch external operations against the United States or Europe.” He added that there “was actual plotting that was ongoing from Syria.” The September 23 airstrikes, carried out by the United States and a coalition of Arab crowned dictatorships, were in part, Rhodes said, “aimed to disrupt that plotting.” 
To give its violation of Syrian sovereignty legal cover, the United States declared that it was acting at the request of the Iraqi government in connection with Iraq’s right of self-defense against aggression by ISIS, and that its actions were therefore consistent with the UN Charter. The airstrikes were also congruent with international law, insisted Washington, as a matter of self-defense against the Khorasan Group, which it said was plotting against the United States.  Neither defense is cogent since Washington rejected coordination with the Syrian government and refused to seek its assent to carry out air strikes on its territory.
Despite Washington pointing to Khorasan as a group with an independent existence apart from the Nusra Front, it appears to be indistinguishable from the latter. The alleged leader of the group, Muhsin al Fadhli, is a longtime al Qaeda operative. Since the Nusra Front is al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, it follows that Fadhli is working with Jabhat al-Nusra. Moreover, US officials acknowledge that Khorasan and Nusra Front “are intertwined.” 
Both Jahbat al-Nusra and ISIS were censured by the UN Security Council this summer for gross, systematic and widespread abuse of human rights . Nevertheless, the United States hasn’t officially declared the Nusra Front to be a target of its mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. This shows that protection of human rights does not underpin the US anti-ISIS campaign, notwithstanding expressions of concern about the plight of the Yazidis, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Instead, Washington’s real motivations are linked to the divergent goals of the two al-Qaeda progeny. The Nusra Front’s ambitions are limited to Syria, and its immediate aim of toppling the country’s secular nationalist government meshes with US objectives. ISIS, in contrast, has larger territorial ambitions, which clash with US domination of the Middle East, particularly its informal control of Iraq’s oil. Hence, ISIS, which is against US foreign policy interests, falls within the crosshairs of the US military campaign, while the Nusra Front, which works (for the moment) in directions which complement US goals in Syria, is ignored, despite a human rights record which is as deplorable and barbaric as that of ISIS (and the United States, if the matter is taken further. Watch the testimony of US soldiers about the conduct of US forces in Vietnam and Iraq to see that barbarity isn’t unique to ISIS and the Nusra Front.)
Still, there’s a loose string. US warplanes and drones struck several bases and an ammunition warehouse belonging to the Nusra Front, according to the New York Times. Almost five dozen Nusra fighters were killed. 
If the Khorasan Group is a part of the Nusra Front, and not a separate organization, the apparent contradiction in the United States excluding the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria as an official target of its war on ISIS, while at the same time attacking it, goes away. It also explains why rebels have never heard of the organization. 
What remains unclear, however, is why the United States attacked Nusra Front targets. Does Khorasan indeed exist as a wing of al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise? Was it plotting attacks on Western targets? Were US airstrikes directed specifically at this wing?
Whatever the case, one leader of a rebel group under US sway objected to the strike on Nusra targets on grounds that al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise is “a loyal partner in the battle against Mr. Assad.”  Numerous press reports have pointed to US-backed rebels cooperating with al-Qaeda in Syria. One veteran observer has argued that there is no dividing wall between “America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” and ISIS and the Nusra Front.  It’s all one movement, no part of it secular, and all parts of it, including the misnamed “moderate” rebels, are overwhelmingly Islamist. 
That the Nusra Front is a loyal partner of US-backed rebels means that the alleged Khorasan leader Muhsin al Fadhli has been an important part of Washington’s war on Assad. Fadhli was close to Osama bin Laden. According to the Wall Street Journal, he “is a senior al Qaeda facilitator and financier” who “has an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors who have sent money to Syria through Turkey.” 
While US warplanes were bombing Nusra Front targets and US-backed rebels were objecting to US attacks on their loyal al-Qaeda partner, Israel was intervening on behalf of the Nusra Front by shooting down a Syrian warplane that was attacking Nusra positions on the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights. Al-Qaeda fighters have captured most of this territory. 
The Syrian aircraft had strayed about a half mile into territory of the Golan Heights under Israeli control (legitimately belonging to Syria but occupied by Israel since 1967), and had turned back when Israeli forces shot it down. That the Syrian warplane had no aggressive intention against Israel was clear in its quickly returning to Syrian airspace.
The absence of aggressive intent was also clear from the context: With its hands full fighting Islamist proxies of the United States, Turkey, Jordan and the US-backed Gulf oil tyrannies, Syria is in no position to undertake a war with Israel, and, indeed, is no position to do so even under the most favorable of circumstances. It should have been clear to Israeli commanders that the pilot had made an error, and likely was clear. All the same, it would appear that Israel couldn’t resist an opportunity to lend a hand to al-Qaeda—not to mention al-Qaeda’s Western and Arab allies of convenience—in their battle against a government they all deplore for their own reasons: Israel, because the Assad government is anti-Zionist; al-Qaeda and Turkey, because it is secular; and the United States and its Arab puppet dictators, because it is nationalist and refuses to be integrated into the US-dominated global economic order.
But for the support of Russia and China, Iran and Hezbollah, Syria stands alone against a US-led club of imperialists, their democracy-abominating Arab clients, a Zionist colonial settler regime, and Islamist fanatics, who brazenly dub themselves Friends of Syria, but parts of which are in reality enemies of secularism and the other part enemies of national independence and self-directed development.
Imperialists, royalist dictatorships, an apartheid settler regime, and jihadists who seek to make the Koran their constitution, are as far away from democrats as could possibly be, which makes the spectacle of their invoking democracy as grounds for their war on Syria’s secular nationalist government—topped off now by the violation of Syrian territory by the United States and its Arab janissaries—a matter of revulsion and egregious hypocrisy.
1. Mark Mazzetti, Michael S. Schmidt and Ben Hubbard, “U.S. suspects more direct threats beyond ISIS,“ The New York Times, September 20, 2014.
2. Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. feared al Qaeda group targeted in Syria was plotting terror,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
3. Somini Sengupta and Charlie Savage, “U.S. invokes Iraq’s defense in legal justification of Syria strikes,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
4. Julian E. Barnes and Sam Dagher, “Syria strikes: U.S. reports significant damage in attacks on Islamic state, Khorasan,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2014.
5. UN Security Council Resolution 2170 (2014). http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sc11520.doc.htm
6. Ben Hubbard, “Startling sight where blasts are the norm,” The New York Times, September 23, 2014.
7. Gorman and Barnes.
9. Patrick Cockburn, cited in Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.
10. Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. pins hope on Syrian rebels with loyalties all over the map”, The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
11. Gorman and Barnes.
12. Joshua Mitnick, “Israeli military shoots down Syrian aircraft,” The Wall Street journal, September 23, 2014.