Other released Egyptian inmates seem to have returned to operational and media roles, including Murjan Salim, who has been directing jihadis to training camps in Libya. Figures like Shaykh Jalal al Din Abu al Fatuh and Shaykh Ahmad 'Ashush, among others, have helped loosely reorganize networks through media outlets al-Bayyan and al-Faruq.
In Tunisia, one can see a rise in vigilantism and organized violence. While not all violence can be linked to Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia (AST), many of the bigger shows of force were: it helped instigate attacks protesting the showing of the unjustifiably controversial film Persepolis, a riot in La Marsa, and the attack at the U.S. embassy in Tunis.
AST's leader Sayf Allah bin Husayn (better known as Abu Iyadh al Tunisi) had previously been imprisoned since 2003 for involvement in terrorism abroad, before being released in the general amnesty of March 2011. Abu Iyadh, who in a June 2003 interview with the London-based Arabic daily Al Sharq al Awsat said he was "proud" to call himself a terrorist, most notably helped facilitate the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan two days prior to the 9/11 attacks. In fact, prominent AST members have claimed that the organization was born during periods of imprisonment, when "communal prayer time served as a forum for discussion and refining ideas that would be put into practice on release."
In Libya, many former prisoners, including some leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, decided to forsake armed struggle and join the political process instead. But other released prisoners returned to jihadi violence. Mohammed al Zahawi and Shaykh Nasir al Tarshani, the top two leaders of Katibat Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, which has been implicated in the Sept. 11 consulate attack, both spent years in Qaddafi's notorious Abu Salim prison. Abu Sufyan bin Qumu, formerly imprisoned in both Guantánamo Bay and Abu Salim, leads the shadowy Ansar al Sharia group in Derna, from where he has recruited individuals to his cause since the Libyan uprising began.
While we have not seen concerted insurgent campaigns, the openness of the transitional societies (which is likely to be a net positive in the long term) has allowed jihadis to regroup, recruit, and spread their message. Ultimately, prisoner releases are one of the untold causes behind the recent jihadi rebound, and the full effects almost certainly are yet to be seen. It is worth recalling that al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, which reconstituted after a prison break in February 2006, did not really display its outward strength and capabilities until three years later, in 2009.
Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn't have a great deal of direct options for addressing this phenomenon. Some standard tools, like developing U.S.-assisted programming through the Global Counterterrorism Forum focusing on judiciary reform or prisoner reintegration, might seem like good fixes at first blush, but there are specific problems. First, as long as released jihadists aren't committing crimes, they won't be arrested -- and the U.S. shouldn't push governments to arrest people who are innocent of (apparent) wrongdoing, a move that would be too reminiscent of the old regimes. Second, political will is a big issue: Egypt's new government seems hesitant to keep any militants in prison, even those with blood on their hands, and judiciary reform is unlikely to solve the problem of political will. Third, prisoner reintegration has a mixed record, and a lot depends on how a government goes about it. Saudi Arabia has been (relatively) successful because it throws a lot of money at prisoners, giving them a huge incentive not to return to the jihad. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen probably lack the resources to copy that model. (Plus, reintegration programs can't deal with already released prisoners, who can't be forced into these programs after their freedom has been granted.)