"If the attack was a genuine attempt to seize hostages, then this raises the likelihood that there will be another attempt at another facility," Porter said.
"The same implications apply if the goal was to destroy the facility. If, however, the attack was a 'spectacular' aimed at raising the profile of Moktar Belmoktar in the Sahara, which appears to be the most likely interpretation at this point, then the likelihood of it being repeated is lower," he added.
A jihadist spring
The attack on the Algerian compound involved fighters from across North Africa and the Sahara, according to Algerian authorities, including from Egypt, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Tunisia and Algeria.
"Belmoktar's group in particular appears to have evolved -- they've been able to attract a more diverse group of foreign fighters than before, and that's a reflection of how other jihadists see them," said Andrew Lebovich, a Senegal-based security analyst.
Several other jihadist groups have also expanded, including factions of AQIM, a hotchpotch of jihadist militias in Libya, and the Nigerian militant groups Boko Haram and Ansaru. A variety of North African and Saharan jihadists and even some Nigerian militants appear to have received training in northern Mali, according to Lebovich, with different groups in the region "cross-fertilizing."
Sources monitoring the security situation in eastern Libya say that, if anything, it has worsened since the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in September, with a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations of security officials, many of which are blamed on Islamist militants.
Libyan authorities are aware of several jihadist camps providing instruction to Libyan militants and foreign fighters in the Derna and Benghazi region, but have not had the firepower to move against them. According to Western intelligence officials, a leading jihadist operating in the area is Abdulbasit Azuz, dispatched to Libya in 2011 by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Nigerian group Ansaru claimed responsibility for an attack that killed Nigerian troops heading to Mali on Sunday.
"We are warning the African countries to (stop) helping Western countries in fighting against Islam and Muslims or face the utmost difficulties," the group stated. Last year, White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan warned that Ansaru was committed to transnational jihad.
Terrorism analysts believe that following the Algeria attack and the French military operation in Mali, these groups may be inspired to launch attacks against Western interests in the region.
"Fighting against local governments didn't help them. It didn't create the euphoria they needed. But now they have this foreign element: an invasion, the West, Crusaders giving them a sense of meaning and a cause in exactly the way Osama bin Laden envisioned," Benotman told CNN.
In recent days, Benotman said, hardline Salafist preachers across the Arab world have declared a call to arms against the French military intervention, depicting it as a foreign occupation.
Western governments are under no illusions regarding the challenges that lie ahead in the region.
"It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months, and it requires a response that is patient, that is painstaking, that is tough, but also intelligent," British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday.
Although in the long term the Arab Spring may discredit al Qaeda's violent ideology, jihadist groups have taken advantage of political turmoil and the dismantling of security services in North Africa to build up their operations.
Over the past two years, al Qaeda has shifted its center of gravity from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region where it is under pressure from drone strikes toward the Arab world, green-lighting the return of dozens of Arab operatives to their homelands, according to Western intelligence officials. The emergence of Syria as a new jihadist cause celebre has further energized militants.
In announcing the formation of the commando unit in December, Belmoktar had promised attacks on Western interests in the region and the home soil of Western countries if they moved against jihadists who had taken over northern Mali.
The fact that some of the attackers in Algeria were carrying Western identification -- two of them were reportedly Canadian -- will raise concern that the group could retask such recruits to launch attacks in the West.
Algerian Prime Minister Sellal said Monday a Canadian national known only as Chedad had played a coordinating role in the attack.
"French security officials have publicly said for some time that they are especially concerned that Westerners could come back from North Africa or the Sahel to launch attacks," Lebovich told CNN. The Sahel is the area along the southern edge of the Sahara.
So far, neither Belmoktar's group nor any other al Qaeda faction in North Africa has come close to launching a terrorist attack in Europe. Virtually all the AQIM cells dismantled in Europe were focused on logistics and fundraising rather than plotting terrorist attacks, according to European counterterrorism officials.
Confronting this emboldened transnational jihad in north Africa is a daunting task, complicated by several factors.
One is the long-standing lack of cooperation between North and West African countries. Algeria and Morocco, for example, are rivals for influence. Another is competing priorities among regional governments. Western diplomats tell CNN that Nigeria, for example, is more concerned about the threat from Boko Haram within than jihadist safe havens in Mali.