London: The al Qaeda leadership, which has been weakened in Pakistan following the killing of many of its senior members -- including Osama bin Laden -- in drone strikes, is now suspected to be shifting to north Africa, a media report said on Monday.
British officials believe that a "last push" in 2012 may destroy al Qaeda`s remaining senior leadership in Pakistan, a newspaper reported.
Many senior al Qaeda members have been killed in air strikes by unmanned drones and "only a handful of the key players" remain alive, said an official.
Al Qaeda`s top leader Osama bin Laden was gunned down in Pakistan`s Abbottabad town May 2 by US commandos who launched a daring operation using stealth helicopters.
Sources said at least two relatively senior al Qaeda leaders have made their way to Libya, with others intercepted en route. This has caused fears that north Africa could become a new "theatre of jihad".
"A group of very experienced figures from north Africa left camps in Afghanistan`s (northeastern) Kunar province where they have been based for several years and travelled back across the Middle East," a source said, adding: "Some got stopped but a few got through."
The media report said it was not clear whether the move from Afghanistan-Pakistan to north Africa was prompted by a desire for greater security that may be unlikely as coalition forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan or part of a strategic attempt to exploit the aftermath of the Arab spring.
A smaller flow of volunteers reaching makeshift bases in Pakistan`s tribal areas has complicated matters for al Qaeda.
"I think they are really very much weakened," an official was quoted as saying.
"You can`t say they don`t pose a threat -- they do -- but it`s a much lesser one."
Intelligence sources told the newspaper they estimate that there are less than 100 "al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated" militants in Afghanistan.
On the Haqqani network, an official said there was evidence it had been acting as intermediaries between the Pakistani secret services and militant groups.
"To move against the Haqqanis is a no-win option for the Pakistani military. If they suffer heavy casualties and fail to eliminate the group, they lose their authority and a key interlocutor. If they succeed, they lose a key asset," the official said.