RFI journalist Nick Champeaux and a journalist from French newspaper Libération have discovered extraordinary papers in which the leader of Aqim, Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali.
The documents, dated 20 July 2012, four months after the jihadists took control of northern Mali, were found among others scattered on the floor of the offices of the ORTM national television station in Timbuktu.
The papers were intended to be read by other senior members of Aqmi (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Ansar Dine and were headed "Roadmap relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad [northern Mali]".
Before they fled Timbuktu, the Aqim leaders shredded a number of documents, including lists of names and telephone numbers. Among the papers scattered on the floor, were the 79 pages written by Abou Moussab Abdelwadoud, alias Abdel Malek Droukdel, head of Aqim.
These documents complete a dossier, part of which was found in February by a journalist working for Associated Press.
In the documents, Abdel Malek Droukdel focuses on how to set up an Islamic zone in northern Mali with the Touareg people, without drawing attention to Aqim's presence there.
His solution is outlined in a framework laid out in six chapters.
In the first chapter, entitled "Global vision of the Islamic jihadist project in Azawad", Droukdel condemns the destruction of mausoleums and the stonings carried out by some of his fellow jihadists. "You have made a serious mistake", he writes. "The population could turn against us, and we cannot fight against a whole people. You are in danger of destroying our experiment, of killing off our baby, our beautiful tree."
"We must avoid general solutions, which do not take the local environment into account", he suggests in a paper written after the first demolitions of mausoleums, which shocked the people of Timbuktu.
"Sharia law allows lashings of the whip as a punishment for adulterers, but first of all we must get people used to the idea and educate them in Islam, only then can we envisage using such punishments", he proposes.
The document appears to have been written after discussion with other Islamists.
Droukdel expresses support in the papers for the idea of an independent High Council for Islamic Affairs, to ensure the proper application of Sharia throughout the territory under Aqmi control.
The document gives a fascinating insight into how Droukdel intended to use the (secular- minded) MNLA (Azawad liberation movement), but also, to a lesser extent, Ansar Dine, the (Islamist) group led by Iyad Ag Ghali.
Throughout the document, Droukdel laments the split with the MNLA. Before the split, in June, the MNLA had signed an accord accepting the principle of the islamicisation of northern Mali.
"What more can we ask of them?" asks Droukdel only one month later in the document. "We can't ask MNLA members to become salafists and join the ranks of Ansar Dine overnight" he declares.
The Aqim leader apparently plans to attribute most of the ministerial posts to MNLA members, though not key ministries such as Religious Affairs, Justice and Education.
He proposes that the Defence Ministry include all the different political and religious movements.
Iyad Ag Ghali (Ansar Dine) would be given the post of leader of a transitional government, whose job would be to draw up a constitution for the Islamic State of Azawad.
However, jihadists would run the towns and cities, and Droukdel appears to have no intention of involving Ansar Dine in his international terrorist activities.
The overriding aim appears to be to create the broadest possible alliances, in order to resist any military intervention.
"Alliances are essential" he writes, noting that one of the advantages of an alliance is that his movement will not be wholly responsible if it fails in its objectives."