In September 2014, as the United States initiated its first major bombing campaign against ISIS, another, smaller, less well known group burst into the public’s consciousness. Khorasan, made up of hardened al-Qaeda veterans who had sought refuge amongst the chaos in Syria in order to recruit U.S. or EU passport holders fighting in Syria to attack Western airliners, was targeted along with ISIS in order to disrupt these plots. For most Americans, this was the first time they had ever heard of Khorasan, and its leader Muhsin al-Fadhli. Indeed, the U.S. Government had only just publicly acknowledged the group’s existence one week earlier. Al-Fadhli, however, had played a number of key roles in al-Qaeda and related groups dating back years.
Al-Fadhli was, amongst much else, a key source for financing al-Qaeda associated activities both within, and well beyond the Middle East. One key position that he held was as the head of al-Qaeda’s operations in Iran. According to a State Department designation, al-Fadhli assumed the position of senior facilitator based in Iran in 2012. In cooperation with the Iranian government, al-Fadhli raised money there as a part of al-Qaeda’s core pipeline and helped finance a variety of global activities.
Once he had relocated to Syria, al-Fadhli did much more than just plot to blow up Western airliners. From his position in Syria he continued to use his experience in fundraising and moving money to tap networks of donors in his native Kuwait as well as Qatar to help fund jihadists fighting in Syria, as well as Khorasan’s global ambitions. With this pipeline of money flowing to him in Syria, al-Fadhli was able to smuggle men and money through Turkey, possibly with acquiescence of the Erdogan government, to Europe and beyond.
On July 21, 2015 the Department of Defense announced that al-Fadhli had been killed in an airstrike in Syria. This core member of al-Qaeda had his year in the spot light, but his notoriety stretched much beyond that. He never had the public recognition of bin Laden, Zawahiri or Zarqawi, but he was always right there. He was one of the only al-Qaeda members who knew about the 9/11 attacks before they happened, and had been personally involved in attacks against U.S. Marines in Kuwait and a French Oil tanker as far back as 2002. The July 8, 2015 strike that killed him did not make global headlines, but nonetheless, he was a key figure in and especially a key financer of global jihadi activities.