As President Obama ran to election victory last fall with claims that al Qaeda was “decimated” and “on the run,” his intelligence team was privately offering a different assessment that the terrorist movement was shifting resources and capabilities to emerging spinoff groups in Africa that posed fresh threats to American security.

Top U.S. officials, including the president, were told in the summer and fall of 2012 that the African offshoots were gaining money, lethal knowledge and a mounting determination to strike U.S. and Western interests while keeping in some contact with al Qaeda’s central leadership, said several people directly familiar with the intelligence.