London: North Africa could emerge as a new "theatre of jihad" with the handful of remaining top al Qaeda leaders shifting base from Pakistan and Afghanistan to countries like Libya, top British officials have warned.
"At least two relatively senior al Qaeda 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," a newspaper quoted officials as saying.
"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."
The move to shift the base to Africa came after killing of senior al Qaeda members in an intense campaign of air strikes involving missiles launched from unmanned drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan , an official said.
After Osama`s killing in May in Pakistan`s Abbottabad , many other high ranking leaders of the group have also been killed. The paper said that British officials believe that a "last push" in 2012 is likely to definitively destroy Qaeda`s remaining "handful of the key players".
"It is unclear whether the moves from west Asia to north Africa are prompted by a desire for greater security ... or part of a strategic attempt to exploit aftermath of the Arab spring," the paper said.