Many counterterrorism specialists have argued that we are seeing the “relocalization of jihad,” in which regional interests dominate over global agendas. This may be true, especially because revolutionary events in the region provide jihadists with local opportunities they simply did not enjoy previously. Some analysts, however, appear far too eager to declare networks like al Qaeda irrelevant to the counterterrorism picture…

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership, according to the report, had dispatched high-level operatives to Libya to bolster its network in the country. As of August, the Federal Research Division assessed that though a core network had been created in Libya, it “remains clandestine and refrains from using the al Qaeda name.” The report also judged that the network was expanding and had begun operating training camps and undertaking social media campaigns. These initial efforts to establish a network were initially undertaken by al Qaeda’s Pakistan-based leadership, but the report also predicted that AQIM would “join hands with the al Qaeda clandestine network in Libya.”

Back in August, the majority of analysts writing in the public sphere probably would have disagreed with the report’s conclusion. Many thought that al Qaeda had been marginalized, even within the jihadi movement. Today that assessment may be different — not just because of the Benghazi attack, but also because of additional information that has emerged about the dynamics of jihadism in Libya. Nobody should be surprised, however, that al Qaeda would attempt to keep its growth (or regrowth) hidden from view. Its use of different labels as it established a network in Libya is instructive. It wanted to be off its adversaries’ radar during this network’s growth phase. Likewise, in both Somalia and Yemen, where al Qaeda’s affiliates have recently taken a beating, the terrorist network is going to try to regain strength out of plain sight.