Last Updated Sep 24, 2014 11:46 AM EDT
In the days leading up to September 11, 2001, only a handful of al Qaeda operatives outside of Osama bin Laden knew about the impending attacks on the United States.
One of them was named Muhsin al-Fadhli, a 20-year-old from Kuwait who U.S. officials said was a close confidant of the terror network's notorious leader.
Now 13 years later, al-Fadhli has emerged as the leader of Khorasan, a group of al Qaeda veterans that was nearing "the execution phase of an attack either in Europe" or the U.S., according to the Pentagon.
That is why, on the same night that U.S. and Arab allies carried out more than 200 airstrikes against ISIS, the U.S. alone launched strikes against eight Khorasan targets in northwestern Syria, Pentagon officials said.
CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports that on Twitter, jihadis are claiming that al-Fadhli died in the bombings but officials could not confirm who may have been killed. The State Department offered a $7 million bounty for information leading to al-Fadhli, who is on the U.S. list of most wanted terrorists.
Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst at American Enterprise Institute and expert on al Qaeda, says al-Fadhli was a seasoned fighter who rose quickly through the terror network's ranks; by 2011, he was heading up al-Qaeda's Iran-based network.
"He is what I consider to be a core al Qaeda member," Zimmerman told CBS News. "He was within that inner circle."
According to the United Nations, al-Fadhli has proven to be a skilled fundraiser for terrorist operations and had strong ties to al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"He was the bodyguard and second-in-command for a leader in the al Qaeda network and fought for al-Qaeda in the north of Afghanistan," the U.N. reported. "Al-Fadhli also fought against Russian forces in Chechnya, where he trained in the use of firearms, anticraft guns and explosives. Al-Fadhli was a facilitator connected with the al-Zarqawi groups in Iraq, providing support to fighters there."
Al-Fadhli has kept a relatively low profile recently but the group he leads has long been on the U.S. radar. Officials told CBS News that Khorasan has a mandate directly from al Qaeda's central command in Pakistan, sent into Syria with bomb-making experts from the terror network's affiliate in Yemen, to try and plot attacks against the U.S. and Western allies.
According to the State Department, al-Fadhli was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to five years in prison for providing funding for terrorist activities and military training in Afghanistan. In 2005, Saudi authorities placed him on their list of wanted terrorists in connection with a series of al Qaeda attacks in that country. That same year, the U.S. sanctioned al-Fadhli, designating him as someone who supports terrorists or terrorist acts.
In 2012, the U.S. accused al-Fadhli of tapping his network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to move fighters and money through Turkey to support al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Syria. The State Department also said he was "believed likely to continue moving experienced al Qaeda operatives to reinforce and gain influence" in Europe, North Africa, and Syria.
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