WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Analysts in the United States are monitoring terrorist threats originating from al-Qaida's Syrian arm, while the world's attention is turned to the Islamic State.
U.S. officials say they are closely watching the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, and another Syrian al-Qaida cell known as Khorasan, adding Khorasan is focused on violence against the West and has an attraction to bomb plots. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged Thursday Khorasan may be as dangerous as the Islamic State "in terms of danger to the homeland."
It was the first time a U.S. official recognized Khorasan's existence. Other officials suspect a bombing attempt could occur soon in Europe by Syrian or Turkish operatives. Khorasan and Nusra Front members are believed to be working on bomb plots as worldwide attention is focused on IS, and the al-Qaida offshoots are competing with IS for attention and prominence in the terrorist world.
Potential targets or methods of attack were not mentioned by Washington officials, but the Syrian al-Qaida groups are suspected of perceiving they have less attention currently paid to them as Western countries prepare to strike IS targets.
The FBI is tracking suspecting militants returning to the U.S., and enhanced security is already in place at two dozen international airports. Airline passengers heading for the U.S. are experiencing enhanced security screenings, and laptops and telephones with dead batteries are banned from flights.
Officials explained some of their findings before the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday.
"In Syria, we've seen veteran al-Qaida fighters travel from Pakistan to take advantage of the permissive environment there," Matt Olsen, Director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center said in testimony Wednesday.
During his testimony, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said no examples of specific terrorist plans could be given and that "specific organizations...should be left to a classified setting."
While IS is engaged in a territorial grab in Syria and Iraq, Khorasan is believed to be developing plots against Western targets, especially aircraft, involving jihadists with U.S. and European passports.