Khorasan terror leader dead live starr lead_00001730.jpg
Pentagon: Khorasan terror leader killed
01:35 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Khorasan Group leader Muhsin al Fadhli was killed in a drone strike, the Pentagon says

The group is made up of senior al Qaeda members who moved into Syria

CNN  — 

U.S. officials say the leader of a terrorist group bent on attacking the country has been killed in a drone strike. Yet many Americans don’t even know that terrorist group exists.

Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti-born jihadi, was the leader of the Khorasan Group – a collection of senior al Qaeda members who moved into Syria. U.S. officials wanted him so badly that they put a $7 million bounty on his head.

“His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaeda against the United States and our allies and partners,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said.

So what is the Khorasan Group?

What it means

Calling the group “Khorasan” doesn’t actually make sense in Arabic or any other language, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Khorasan is not an organizational name or even some exotic acronym, but an ancient Islamic historical term from the far east of the Muslim world,” the think tank said. “It is used today by al-Qaeda (and others who are fond of archaic Islamic terminology) to describe the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran region.”

How it started

The terror group is a collection of al Qaeda members who have moved into Syria amid that country’s destruction in recent years. U.S. President Barack Obama has called the Khorasan Group “seasoned al Qaeda operatives.”

Khorasan’s existence wasn’t publicly acknowledged in the U.S. until last year, when U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said it was operating in Iraq and Syria with a focus on exporting terror to the West.

What its goal is

The Khorasan Group’s mission is to find new ways to attack the United States and Europe.

For al Qaeda, which is struggling against ISIS for the crown of leading global jihad, the creation of Khorasan makes perfect sense.

Sources said the Khorasan Group has been trying to emulate the success of ISIS in using social media to recruit Westerners – people who could be trained and then sent home to launch terror attacks.

Why it’s a target

The Khorasan Group has actively plotted against U.S. and other Western targets, a senior U.S. official has said.

Last September, officials discovered the plots against the United States, an intelligence source told CNN. The source did not say what the Khorasan Group’s target may have been, but said the plot may have involved a bomb made of clothes dipped in explosive material.

One of the group’s facilities was hit in a strike last September on the first night of U.S.-led military action inside Syria. Coalition aircraft have subsequently hit more of Khorasan’s training camps and other facilities inside Syria in the nearly year-long aerial campaign.

What its leader did

Muhsin al Fadhli

Al Fadhli fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and was among the “few trusted al Qaeda leaders that received advanced notification of the September 11, 2001, attacks,” the Pentagon spokesman said.

He was also involved in terrorist attacks that took place in October 2002, including against U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait and on the French ship MV Limburg.

How it’s different

Other anti-U.S. terrorist groups, such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (al Nusra Front), create much of their violence in the Middle East.

The Khorasan Group was believed to direct most of its energy plotting external attacks in the West.

But all three terror organizations have one thing in common: they all spawned from al Qaeda.

CNN’s Jamie Crawford and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.