In addition to targeting ISIS, U.S. airstrikes Monday night took aim at the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda cell filled with well-seasoned operatives who could pose a larger threat to the U.S. than ISIS. “We hit them last night out of concern that they were getting close to an execution date,” Attorney General Eric Holder told Yahoo’s Katie Couric of planned airline attacks on the U.S. and its allies. Their plots were responsible for the tightened air travel restrictions back in July, according to Holder, who said the attacks in Syria could “continue until we are at a stage where we think we have degraded their ability to get at our allies or to the homeland.”
The Khorasan Group is headed by al Qaeda leader Muhsin al-Fadhli, who was reportedly so trusted by Osama bin Laden that he was told of al Qaeda’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Fadhli went on to lead al Qaeda’s branch in Iran before moving to Syria last year, where he led al-Nusra Front. (That group is an al Qaeda affiliate that recently turned on ISIS.) The Pentagon warned last week that the cell “has established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices, and recruit Westerners to conduct operations.” Unlike ISIS’s goal of capturing land and resources, the Khorasan Group’s prime aim is to recruit Westerners who are less likely to be detected planting attacks, such as in airports and on planes.