Sources: Senior Al Qaeda in Pakistan may be moving to Libya

However, well-informed sources outside government and close to Islamist groups in north Africa said at least two relatively senior al-Qaida figures have already made their way to Libya, with others intercepted en route, raising fears that north Africa could become a new “theatre of jihad” in coming months or years.

“A group of very experienced figures from north Africa left camps in Afghanistan’s [north-eastern] Kunar province where they have been based for several years and travelled back across the Middle East,” one source said. “Some got stopped but a few got through.”

It is unclear whether the moves from west Asia to north Africa are prompted by a desire for greater security – which seems unlikely as Nato forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan – or part of a strategic attempt to exploit the aftermath of the Arab spring. They may even be trying to shift the centre of gravity of al-Qaida’s effort back to the homelands of the vast majority of its members.