If you’d never heard of the “Khorasan Group” prior to September 23, 2014 — when the US-led airstrikes on Syria began — you’re not alone. The obscure name had not come up very much at all in terrorism reports or studies, in press reports or much of anywhere else. Most of us who have written about terrorism since shortly after 9-11 had never heard of the group.
Until, that is, President Obama named the Khorasan Group in the letter he sent to Congress justifying bombing Syria. In the same letter, Obama omitted any mention of the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL at all.
That curious omission generated some head-scratching. Were we baited and switched into bombing Syria? And just who is this “Khorasan Group” that seems to have materialized out of the Middle East’s desert sands?
Glenn Greenwald has gone through media reports in the days leading up to the bombing of Syria, which began on September 23. The ISIS beheading of American journalist James Foley on September 9 grabbed the world’s attention and forced Obama to step off the golf course and take some action.
There were scant mentions of the Khorasan group at all until an AP story appeared on September 13. That story, in which several US intelligence officials are quoted anonymously, painted the group as more dangerous than ISIS, and planning an “imminent” attack on US soil.
That word — “imminent” — turns out to play a key role, if Greenwald is right. If a terrorist group is planning an imminent attack and has the capability of carrying it out, then their target — in this case, the US or Europe — has not only the right but the duty to stop the terrorists.
The 9-13 AP story paved the way for a CBS News story and then numerous others leading up to September 23. But all along that period, Americans were focused on the Islamic State. It was the “jayvee” team who had butchered Americans and would butcher a British and a Frenchman, while swallowing up parts of Iraq and Syria, stranding the Yazidis on a mountaintop, engaging in mass killings and crucifixions of Christians, selling women into sex slavery, and becoming the world’s richest terrorist group by selling Iraqi oil on the black market to Turket at cut prices. In fact, ISIS’ oil piracy gave OPEC nations a reason to fight them beyond terrorism.
American citizens’ attentions were focused on ISIS from September 9 all the way through September 23. President Obama was compelled by polls to act after two Americans were beheaded and videos of their executions by ISIS broadcast on the Internet. But Obama did not want to take the issue up to Congress or to the UN. There also existed the complication of bombing on Syrian soil without Assad’s input or permission. Assad remains the head of government in a sovereign, albeit piecemeal, Syria, despite Obama’s calls for him to leave power.
According to Greenwald’s theory, the Obama administration made up the Khorasan threat and dubbed it “imminent” in order to conduct the bombing of Syria as a necessary move in American self-defense. As soon as the bombings had started, however, the Khorasan threat has receded in the Obama administration’s communications, and the ISIS threat has returned to be called the top threat. The “imminence” of the Khorasan threat has been downplayed and downgraded, and some in the media are starting to question the emphasis on that group in the run-up to bombing Syria.
All tolled, the people of the United States and the world may have been bamboozled through anonymous sourcing in willing media outlets into bombing a terrorist group that doesn’t actually exist.