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What exactly is the Khorasan group anyway?

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(Read caption) The U.S. initiated two separate strikes overnight against ISIS and the Khorasan Group in Syria. CNN's Barbara Starr reports.

Muhsin al-Fadhli, leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate known as the “Khorasan group,” is dead, US officials confirmed Tuesday.

A Pentagon statement says that the Kuwait-born Mr. Fadhli was killed on July 8 “in a kinetic strike” while traveling in a vehicle near Sarmada a city in Syria near Turkey's border. 

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Many Americans have never even heard of the Khorasan group. Who are they? 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the term “Khorasan” did not appear in mainstream media until September 2014. Many people thought the group was a new, highly dangerous terrorist organization. But the Associated Press’s original headline in September paints a different story: “al Qaida’s Syrian cell alarms US.” The report describes the Khorasan group as “a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there.”

According to CNN, the Khorasan group’s mission is to find new ways to attack the United States and Europe – making it an immediate threat to American national security. For this reason, the information was highly classified until it was released in 2014.

The name “Khorasan” refers to the far east of the Muslim world, and, as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out, “[i]t is used today by al-Qaeda (and others who are fond of archaic Islamic terminology) to describe the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran region.”

"[T]his is not likely to be an independent organization," they continue, "but rather a network-within-the-network, assigned to deal with specific tasks." 

Very little is publicly known about the group, but it is believed to be made up of about two dozen seasoned Qaeda operatives, the New York Times reported. American officials say they were sent to Syria by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s leader in Pakistan.

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Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who is now at the Brookings Institution, told the Times that Fadhli's death “… is a significant blow to Al Qaeda’s top terror team.”

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The terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was also started by an Al Qaeda operative, but the two militant groups soon parted ways. According to CNN, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi launched Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 in an attempt to ignite a sectarian war against Iraq’s Shiite majority. The group began referring to itself as "The Islamic State" in 2014. 

ISIS’s main goal is to create an Islamist country across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria. But the organization is not limited in its vision for the future. One former ISIS fighter in Turkey told CNN that, “main and principal goal of the Islamic State that they tell their new members is to establish an Islamic state that will encompass the Arab world." 

"After that," the man added, "we go to other countries.”

The Associated Press reports that the White House does not believe ISIS poses an imminent threat to the continental US, but that the Khorasan group does.