In apparently genuine manifesto, senior commander tells his men they tried to impose Islamic law too quickly
A document that purports to reveal al-Qaida's strategy in north Africa has been recovered from one of the government buildings used by rebels in the north of Mali.
The document was found at the ministry of finance's regional audit department in Timbuktu by the Associated Press and is signed by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, also known as Abdelmalek Droukdel, a senior commander of the insurrection in Mali.
He warns his men to be diplomatic and not rush to impose sharia law. In the document, which takes the form of a letter divided into six chapters, he urges them to be more gentle, like a parent.
"The current baby is in its first days, crawling on its knees, and has not yet stood on its two legs," he wrote.
"If we really want it to stand on its own two feet in this world full of enemies waiting to pounce, we must ease its burden, take it by the hand, help it and support it until it stands."
It is not clear where Droukdel is writing from or to whom.
He scolds his fighters for being too forceful.
"Every mistake in this important stage of the life of the baby will be a heavy burden on his shoulders. The larger the mistake, the heavier the burden on his back, and we could end up suffocating him suddenly and causing his death," he wrote.
Mathieu Guidere of the University of Toulouse, who manages a database of al-Qaida documents, said: "This is a document between the Islamists that has never been put before the public eye.
"It confirms something very important, which is the divisions about the strategic conception of the organisation. There was a debate on how to establish an Islamic state in north Mali and how to apply sharia."
In the document, Droukdel acknowledges al-Qaida is vulnerable to foreign intervention, and that international and regional pressure "exceeds our military and financial and structural capability for the time being".
"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.
"Taking into account this important factor, we must not go too far or take risks in our decisions or imagine that this project is a stable Islamic state."
According to his own online biography, Droukdel is 44, born in Zayan, Algeria. He enrolled into the technology department of a local university before he began making explosives for Algerian rebels.
In 2006, the group to which he belonged, known as the GSPC, became an arm of al-Qaida.
When the rebels took over northern Mali 10 months ago, they were initially tolerated but then started to whip women for not covering up and amputate the limbs of suspected thieves.
Droukdel wrote that the application of sharia law was hasty. "One of the wrong policies that we think you carried out is the extreme speed with which you applied sharia, not taking into consideration the gradual evolution that should be applied in an environment that is ignorant of religion.
"Our previous experience proved that applying sharia this way, without taking the environment into consideration, will lead to people rejecting the religion, and engender hatred toward the mujahideen, and will consequently lead to the failure of our experiment."
He criticised the destruction of Timbuktu's World Heritage-listed shrines, because, "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".