In their hurry to flee last month, Al Qaeda fighters left behind a crucial document.
Tucked under a pile of papers and trash is a confidential letter, spelling out the terror network's strategy for conquering northern Mali and reflecting internal discord over how to rule the region.
The document is an unprecedented window into the terrorist operation, indicating that Al Qaeda predicted the military intervention that would dislodge it in January and recognized its own vulnerability.
The letter also shows a sharp division within Al Qaeda'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 despite a temporary withdrawal into the desert, Al Qaeda 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 jihadis' M.O.--in a nutshell.