In Timbuktu, al-Qaeda left behind a manifesto spelling out strategy for conquering northern Mali

Al Qaida

Droukdel goes on to cite two specific applications of Shariah that he found problematic. He criticizes the destruction of Timbuktu's World Heritage-listed shrines, because, as he says, "on the internal front we are not strong.'' He also tells the fighters he disapproves of their religious punishment for adulterers _ stoning to death _ and their lashing of people, "and the fact that you prevented women from going out, and prevented children from playing, and searched the houses of the population.''

"Your officials need to control themselves,'' he writes.

Droukdel's words reflect the division within one of al-Qaida's most ruthless affiliates, and may explain why Timbuktu, under the thumb of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, experienced a slightly less brutal version of Shariah than Gao, one of the three other major cities controlled by the extremists. There was only one amputation in Timbuktu over their 10-month rule, compared to a dozen or more in Gao, a city governed by an al-Qaeda offshoot, MUJAO, which does not report to Droukdel.

Droukdel's warning of rejection from locals also turned out to be prescient, as Shariah ran its course in Timbuktu. The breaking point, residents say, was the day last June when the jihadists descended on the cemetery with pickaxes and shovels and smashed the tombs of their saints, decrying what they called the sin of idolatry.

Many in Timbuktu say that was the point of no return. "When they smashed our mausoleums, it hurt us deeply,'' said Alpha Sanechirfi, the director of the Malian Office of Tourism in Timbuktu. "For us, it was game over.''

Droukdel's letter also urges his followers to make concessions to win over other groups in the area, and in one case criticizes their failure to do so. For several months, the Islamic extremists controlling northern Mali coexisted with the secular National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, the name given to Mali by Tuareg rebels who want their own state. The black flag of the extremists fluttered alongside the multi-colored one of the secular rebels, each occupying different areas of the towns.

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