The brazen attack on a desert gas plant in Algeria last month and the French-led campaign against Islamists in northern Mali have triggered stark warnings in the West of a new front opening in the campaign to combat Islamist extremists but there is a danger of exaggerating the threat, analysts say.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the need to prevent northern Mali becoming a "safe haven" from which militants could launch attacks against America.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said this "global threat" required a response that would take "years, even decades".
"Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in North Africa," he said.
But militancy in the Sahara and Sahel, which stretches across the desert regions of Mali, Algeria, Libya, Niger and Mauritania, is tied to local dynamics and plays on local grievances and it would be a mistake to see all of the region's numerous armed groups as always acting in unison.