ISIS, Khorasan, and al Qaeda: 'We Have to Know Our Enemy'

ABC News' Pierre Thomas and counterterrorism experts Ali Soufan and John Cohen weigh in on homegrown terrorism and Khorasan's shadowy threat to the homeland.
7:12 | 09/28/14

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Transcript for ISIS, Khorasan, and al Qaeda: 'We Have to Know Our Enemy'
Back now in Bahrain with our "Closer look" at urgent warnings that terror groups in this part of the world could be planning attacks in the U.S. Overnight, the group khorasan posted on social media that a U.S. Air strike killed one of its commanders, but U.S. Law enforcement officials say the dangers that group and others still pose is very real. ABC's senior justice department correspondent Pierre Thomas walks us through the threats. Reporter: As air strikes continue this morning in Syria and Iraq, law enforcement officials say it's injected more uncertainty into an already volatile threat environment here at home. The top threat according to the FBI, the khorasan. The new Al Qaeda affiliate that is plotting to attack commercial aircraft with undetectable bombs. It really is frightening and really is something that we should be concerned about. Reporter: FBI director James come told me and a small group of reporters that the khorasan was at the top of his list of threats and that he was not certain that its leaders or the plot had been stopped by this week's air strikes in Syria. He said the group's plan could serve as, quote, tomorrow. Here's how the attorney general described the threat in July. It's more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general. Reporter: Perhaps the next most urgent threat, so-called homegrown radicals. A new FBI homeland security bulletin suggests the military strikes could fuel the anger of Isis sympathizers in the U.S. Possibly motivating homeland attacks. The fear, that the images of air strikes and the beheadings by Isis might spur angry and deranged individuals here at home. We have someone attacking someone in the building. We can hear a lot of screaming. Reporter: Just this week this man in Moore, Oklahoma, who police say had recently been trying to convert fellow employees to Islam allegedly beheaded a co-worker after he was fired. Due to tje manner of death and initial statements of co-workers, we requested the assistance of the FBI. Reporter: Authorities want to know if this was workplace anger or something more. Also of concern, the 100 Americans who have gone or tried to go to Syria. This new Isis propaganda video brings home the threat. This is the end. This is the end that they face. Reporter: The FBI director said they were speaking in what he believes to be, quote, north American accents. This morning, a witch's brew of threats keeping U.S. Law enforcement on edge. For "This week," Pierre Thomas, ABC news, Washington. Thanks, Pierre. Let's take this on now with John Cohen who until July was counterterrorism coordinator for the department of homeland security and Ali soufan, a former FBI agent who's tracked Al Qaeda for years leading the investigation into the attack on the "Uss Cole" and also investigating the events surrounding 9/11. Thanks for joining us. I want to start with you, John Cohen. Khorasan, you were at homeland security in July. You had to have known about this group. What more can you tell us about it and what was done to try to counter any type of attack? Well, the khorasan group is a group of hardened, experienced individuals who have been associated with other members of Al Qaeda, but I think what is most important with regard to the story here is that it reflects what the real danger is in Syria where for years we have had extremists from all over the world all going to Syria, and they've worked together. They've planned together. They've plotted together. They've trained together. They've become more experienced together, and this is going to be one of the main challenges the United States is going to have to confront in the years ahead. Ali soufan, you've been quite critical of the approach to combating Al Qaeda. You recently said that there was too much focus on Osama bin laden and not on the bin ladenism he spawned. What do you mean by that and what do you think we should be doing better? I think since 9/11, our tactics has been just tactics. We have been, you know, dealing with Al Qaeda, with the threat Al Qaeda brings. We have been successful in diminishing some of the threat in the short term, but we never dealt with the ideology. Today after trillions of dollars that's been spent, after thousands of lives around the world that have been lost, we have more people adhere to the ideology of Osama bin laden. In 2014 than we had in 2001. So that gives you an idea that the threat is not a group. The threat is in the ideology. There are different groups, sometimes we call them Isis, sometimes we call them Al Qaeda, now people are calling khorasan a new group, however, we never dealt with ideology and that is a problem. And I know we're trying to do that now. I know the state department has many programs, but quickly from you both, how confident are you that you really can destroy Isis and these Al Qaeda splinter groups? Let's start with you, John Cohen. Well, I think the main question here, Martha, is why is the rhetoric, why is the narrative from these groups resonating and resonating with people in the United States in particular because that is one of the most disturbing elements of this problem is that these -- But tell me how confident you are that we can beat them. I think we've taken some good first steps, the work of the FBI, department of homeland security and others have been somewhat productive in developing community-based efforts that might make our communities a little bit safer in resisting these types of issues but we have a lot more work to do. Ali soufan, very, very quickly, please, how confident are you? Well, first before I answer this question, we have to know our enemy. I mean, it was said a long time ago, if you know your enemy and know yourself, you will win 100 times in 100 battles. Look for example about the khorasan group. Khorasan is a region in central Asia that includes part of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They defer -- Al Qaeda refer to the leadership in northern Pakistan as khorasan, so for them saying the brothers in khorasan is like them -- is like us saying headquarters or the headquarters in Washington, D.C., so it's not a new affiliate. It's not a new group. It is simply Al Qaeda as we know it and as we always knew it so first we have to learn about our enemy. We have to identify the enemy and if we don't do this with Isis and if we don't target the incubating factors that making Isis popular among thousands of youth around the world, then I think we're going to have a lot of difficulties in dismantling it and defeating it. Okay. Thanks to you both.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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