In Timbuktu, al-Qaida left behind strategic plans

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI | February 14, 2013 | 12:31 PM EST

In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, neighborhood resident Mohamed Alassane ducks under a wire to enter the Ministry of Finance's Regional Audit Department in Timbuktu, Mali, a site used by al Qaida-linked Islamists for more than a year. In the building, also used to hold European hostages, the AP found a more than 10-page letter signed by Abdelmalek Droukdel, the senior commander appointed by Osama bin Laden to run al-Qaida's branch in Africa. The confidential letter from the terror leader spelled out the terror network's blueprint for conquering this desert nation.(AP Photo/Rukmini Callimachi)

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — The Associated Press has discovered a confidential letter written by a senior al-Qaida commander, spelling out the terror network's strategy for conquering northern Mali.

The nine-page letter, found on the floor of a house occupied by the fighters, is signed by Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The document reveals that al-Qaida recognized its own vulnerability in the face of the pending military intervention, launched by France in January to oust the extremists. It also shows a sharp discord within al-Qaida's local chapter over how strictly to apply Islamic law, with Droukdel expressing dismay over the whipping of women and the destruction of Timbuktu's shrines. It indicates the cell is willing to make short-term concessions on ideology to gain the allies it acknowledges it needs.