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Al Qaeda leaders almost gone from Pak

world Updated: Dec 27, 2011 00:57 IST

Senior British officials believe that a “last push” in 2012 is likely to definitively destroy al Qaeda’s remaining senior leadership in Pakistan, opening a new phase in the battle against Islamist terrorism.

So many senior members of the organisation have been killed in an intense campaign of air strikes involving missiles launched from unmanned drones that “only a handful of the key players” remain alive, one official said.

However, well-informed sources outside government and close to Islamist groups in north Africa said 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 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. The Guardian