AQIM worried about Malian backlash

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The head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb urged militants in Mali to refrain from applying Islamic law, so as not to alienate the public, in a letter recently discovered in Timbuktu.

The document, which the Associated Press found in a building the Islamic extremists had occupied for almost a year, was signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, aka Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM. The AP translated the document, which was missing some sections, and posted it (.pdf) online.

"One of the wrong policies that we think you have carried out is the extreme speed with which you applied Shariah, not taking into consideration the gradual evolution that should be applied in an environment that is ignorant of religion," Droukdel wrote.

He criticized the militants for lashing people and destroying historic shrines. Instead, he said, it would have been better "to talk and to preach in order to convince them and educate them."

To prevent a backlash, he suggested that his followers "pretend to be a 'domestic' movement that has its own causes and concerns. There is no call for you to show that we have an expansionary, jihadi, Qaida or any other sort of project."

In the letter, which the AP says was written in mid-2012 at the earliest, Droukdel compared the group's mission to a newborn baby that needs time to mature. "States are not created from one night to the next," he said.

He also gave a realistic assessment of the group's short-term prospects. "It is very probable, perhaps certain, that a military intervention will occur...which in the end will either force us to retreat to our rear bases or will provoke the people against us," he wrote.

Since January, the U.S. military has been providing fuel, information and logistical support to French troops fighting the Islamist militants there. By Feb. 12, the Air Force had transported 2 million pounds of cargo to support the operation.

For more:
- download the letter (.pdf)

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