The Obama administration is being accused of coining a new name for an old nemesis by dubbing an Al Qaeda offshoot “The Khorasan Group.”
From Rush Limbaugh to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, critics are dubious of the corporate-sounding name rooted in an old term that describes an area on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are charging that it may have been introduced last month as a way to avoid invoking the name Al Qaeda, the terror group President Obama once claimed had been “decimated."
Middle East experts were long familiar with the term “Khorasan,” but its use as part of a terrorist organization’s formal name does not appear in recent online searches prior to Sept. 13, when The Associated Press characterized the militants as a “cadre of veteran Al Qaeda fighters” from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to connect with the Al Qaeda affiliate there, the Nusra Front.
Ten days later, in a Sept. 23 article, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Aron Lund also questioned the term’s legitimacy, saying the term “gained currency only” within the past two weeks.
“The sudden flurry of revelations about the ‘Khorasan Group’ in the past two weeks smacks of strategic leaks and political spin,” Lund wrote. “Even if the information provided is entirely correct, which it may well be, the timing can hardly be coincidental — within two weeks of the first press reports, attacks had started against [Khorasan Group leader Muhsin] Fadhli and his allies in Syria.”
Four days later, former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy followed with a column in the National Review Online titled, “The Khorasan Group Does Not Exist,” alleging it was a term crafted by the administration.
"You haven't heard of the Khorasan Group because there isn't one," he wrote. "It is a name the administration came up with, calculating that Khorasan — the Iranian-Afghan border region — had sufficient connection to jihadist lore that no one would call the president on it."
Since the controversy erupted, the White House has issued an array of mixed messages over exactly who the group is and where its name originates, but has now readily acknowledged that the terrorist sect it refers to as The Khorasan Group is made up of Al Qaeda stalwarts.
McCarthy reiterated his point Wednesday in a new column, saying the doubts were further solidified due to a corroborating report from al-Alan TV’s Jenan Moussa, who was granted access to the headquarters of Al Qaeda in Syria.
“The bombing of the so-called Khorasan-group in Syria is a mystery to the world,” said Moussa, according to an English translation. “The only thing we know is the location and that at least two main Al Qaeda operatives, top sniper Abu Yousef Al Turki and Abu Hajar Al Masri, were killed.”
With exclusive access, Moussa said she was able to photograph the decimated buildings. Amid the rubble, she found a list with 14 names on it who were described as members of the “Wolf Unit, Jabhat al Nusra.”
The document, according to Moussa, indicated that the wolf unit was led by Abu Yusuf al Turki, a notorious sniper who was killed during recent American airstrikes.
“Based on the pictures and documents, we can conclude the following: What the Americans call Khorasan is, in fact, the Wolf Unit and other groups of foreign fighters within Jabhat al Nusra,” Moussa reports. “ … Most of them are non-Syrian Al Qaeda members who have a history in Pakistan and Afghanistan and are now present inside Syria under the banner of Jabhat Al Nusra.”
The network of militants in Syria was targeted by the U.S. military during the first wave of strikes last week. While few had heard of the group until recently, Obama administration officials, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, said U.S. authorities had been tracking Khorasan for two years.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the Khorasan Group is merely an "affiliate" with "ties to core Al Qaeda, but is not a part of core Al Qaeda."
Psaki’s comments followed a State Department written clarification on the relationship on Monday. In that statement, the department said: "The 'Khorasan Group' is a term sometimes used to refer to a network of al-Nusrah Front and Al Qaeda core violent extremists who share a history of training operatives, facilitating fighters and money, and planning attacks against U.S. and Western targets."
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby on Tuesday referred to The Khorasan Group as "a small offshoot of Al Qaeda," and bristled when asked about accusations that the threat from Khorasan was overblown or fabricated for the purpose of creating a pretext to strike inside Syria. Kirby called those allegations “absolutely false” and “ridiculous,” but said there is no difference between Khorasan and Al Qaeda.
"We consider these groups one and the same,” he said.
Walid Phares, a Fox News contributor and terrorism expert, said he believes it's possible the Obama administration used the term without linking to Al Qaeda for obvious political reasons.
"Remember, this is an administration that refused to used the term jihadists before they started to use it lately," Phares told FoxNews.com. "Refused to acknowledge that a jihadi ideology existed before they started to accept the idea. Nothing surprises me in the terror-narrative of this administration. I do believe, though, that they picked up the name Khorasan Group as a regional Al Qaeda command and possibly that this particular command was planning attacks, then said they bombed a new organization which was plotting to harm the homeland. But guess what? All Al Qaeda regional groups are planning the same thing, i.e. strike the homeland."
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.