Only a few years after French troops broke up its desert stronghold and scattered its fighters into the dunes, Al Qaeda’s branch in West Africa has regrouped and extended its reach, storming into new territory across three nations.

The setting for its new attacks: fancy West African hotels where fighters can strike local elites and Westerners, many hundreds of miles from the militants’ former base in northern Mali. They have killed dozens of people in recent months, including sunbathers lounging at a seaside resort in Ivory Coast on Sunday, prompting the American military to call Al Qaeda’s West African affiliate one of the world’s most enduring Islamist terrorist groups.

Almost four years ago, the group, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, had reached its zenith, ruling over a remote stretch of northern Mali the size of Texas. But when it started creeping south toward the capital, Bamako, French troops rushed in, chasing the militants across the desert, where they were believed to have suffered catastrophic losses.

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