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Left behind in a house in Timbuktu, al-Qaida document outlines strategic vision for Mali

  • 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)The Associated Press

  • In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, neighborhood resident Mohamed Alassane sifts through documents left behind at the Ministry of Finance's Regional Audit Department, in Timbuktu, Mali, where a confidential letter was found from terror leader Abdelmalek Droukdel spelling out the terror network's blueprint for conquering this desert nation. In the days before being rousted by a French assault force, the leader of al-Qaida¹s branch in Africa had warned fellow Islamic fighters to go softly on the people in order to make their takeover of northern Mali last. The more than 10-page letter, which the AP found in a building the Islamists occupied for nearly a year, is signed by Droukdel, the senior commander appointed by Osama bin Laden to run al-Qaida's branch in Africa. (AP Photo/Rukmini Callimachi)The Associated Press

  • In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, neighborhood resident Mohamed Alassane stands in a room where he and other residents say al Qaida held European hostages, at the Ministry of Finance's Regional Audit Department, in Timbuktu, Mali. Alassane and a doctor from the local hospital said the wheelchair had been used by an injured Islamist. In the same building, occupied by Islamists for more than a year, 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)The Associated Press

  • In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, neighborhood resident Mohamed Alassane walks past a room where he and other residents say al Qaida held European hostages, at the Ministry of Finance's Regional Audit Department, in Timbuktu, Mali. In the same building, occupied by Islamists for more than a year, 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)The Associated Press

  • In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, neighborhood resident Mohamed Alassane walks through 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)The Associated Press

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.