Last week, the United States and several Arab allies began bombing ISIS targets in Syria — as well as a mysterious and little-known faction of al-Qaeda that the US says is called Khorasan.
The group's name, like much else about it, is the subject of some uncertainty and debate. Some have suggested that the US made up the name, perhaps derived from internal al-Qaeda communication referring to the militants as something perhaps like "Our brothers from Khorasan."
But it turns out that the group may refer to itself by a very different name: the Wolf Unit of Jabhat al-Nusra. That's according to some apparently internal documents uncovered by Jenan Moussa, a highly respected reporter with the Dubai-based outlet Al Aan TV.
Moussa found the documents in the rubble of a house the group used in the Syrian city of Aleppo and that had been bombed in the US-led airstrikes. (She is braver than you are.) A list of names identifies 13 men, one of them identified by the US as a Khorasan member, under the heading "Wolf Unit of Jabhat al-Nusra." Moussa says the name appears to include four Turks, two Egyptians, two Yemenis, two Tunisians, one Palestinian, one Serbian, and one from the Caucasus region.
If this is indeed the group's name, it could have potential significance beyond just giving us something more accurate to call them. Jabhat al-Nusra (which means "the support front") is the official branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria. There has been an open and much-debated question as to whether Khorasan reports to the central al-Qaeda leadership back in Pakistan and Afghanistan or reports to the local commanders of Jabhat al-Nusra. That would speak to, although not fully answer, the group's mission and intent (is it focused locally in Syria, or just using it as a base of global al-Qaeda operations?) as well as other important organizational details.
To be clear, just identifying the group's name does not definitively resolve any of these questions, but it's a potentially important datapoint about how Khorasan — or the Wolf Unit, or whatever you want to call them — works.