In Timbuktu, departing al-Qaida forces leave classified document behind

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TIMBUKTU, Mali — In their hurry to flee last month, al-Qaida fighters left behind a crucial document.

Tucked under a pile of papers and trash was a confidential letter spelling out the terror network’s strategy for conquering northern Mali and reflected internal discord over how to rule the region.

The document is an unprecedented window into the terrorist operation, indicating that al-Qaida predicted the military intervention that would dislodge it in January and recognized its own vulnerability.

The letter also shows a sharp division within al-Qaida’s Africa chapter over how quickly and how strictly to apply Islamic law, with its senior commander expressing dismay over the whipping of women and the destruction of Timbuktu’s ancient monuments. It moreover leaves no doubt that al-Qaida plans to operate in the region over the long haul, and is willing to make short-term concessions on ideology to gain the allies it acknowledges it needs.

The clear-headed, point-by-point assessment resembles a memo from a CEO to his top managers and lays out for jihadists in Mali what they have done wrong in months past, and what they need to do to correct their behavior in the future.

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