What’s in the Khorasan name?

“The Khorasan Group.” It sounds like a consulting firm, or maybe an orgiastic cult. Actually, though, it’s the name applied to a terrorist outfit the Obama administration targeted for bombing in Syria earlier this week in attacks separate from those aimed at ISIS. But what kind of terrorist organization is the Khorasan Group and where does the name come from?

According to the reports I’ve read, the Khorasan Group is a subset of core al Qaeda. Its members were selected by al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan to move to Syria and plot terrorist attacks against the West from the safety of territory occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s official affiliate.

As for the name, Khorasan is an ancient region that included parts of Iran and Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, it was established by the Sasanian dynasty, the last Iranian empire before the rise of Islam, at some point in the 3rd century. The name means “The Land of the Sun,” a reference to its eastern location.

Maybe Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

But how did an al Qaeda cell get this odd, pre-Islamic name? Apparently not from al Qaeda or any other terrorist group operating in Syria. The Post reports:

Pieter van Ostaeyen, a historian and blogger who follows jihadist movements, writes in an e-mail that “in all of the official Jihadi accounts I follow(ed), the name never was mentioned.”

Even after the use of the phrase by U.S. officials, the Khorosan label still seemed obscure to many in Syria. The Post’s Loveday Morris said that most Islamist fighters she spoke to had never heard of any Khorasan group, and those that used the word used it to refer, more broadly, to fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than a specific group.

So who decided that there is a specific group called the Khorosan Group? The best guess seems to be that the Obama administration did:

“[The name] is clearly U.S.-originated,” van Ostaeyen said. . . .”It’s cute Pentagon is literally making up new group called ‘Khurasan’ when it’s just AQ AfPak/Iran guys. . . [Aaron] Zelin [of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy] tweeted after the strikes against the group were announced.”

Zelin added that “there have been no jihadis in Syria or [Jabhat al-Nusra] to use that name when referring to themselves; Some online jihadis have even characterized it as laughable.”

Why would the Obama administration want to come up with an obscure name for “AQ AfPak/Iran” terrorists? That’s an easy one.

Obama maintains that core al Qaeda has been decimated in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, it will hardly do for the administration to acknowledge that core al Qaeda in these two countries has sent operatives to Syria who are deep into plotting attacks on the U.S. homeland, such that U.S. air strikes are required.

Perhaps further investigation will reveal that the name Khorasan Group is not simply a device through which Team Obama hopes to sustain the fiction that it rendered core al Qaeda impotent. But right now, that looks like it might well be the best explanation for the name.

In any event, Obama’s reports of core al Qaeda’s demise now look like the national security equivalent of “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

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