Suspected Yemeni al-Qaeda militants sit with handcuffs during their sentencing hearing on January 6, 2013 at the state security court in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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.