DAKAR, Senegal - After years of trying to discipline him, the leaders of al-Qaida's North African branch sent one final letter to their most difficult employee. In page after scathing page, they described how he didn't answer his phone when they called, failed to turn in his expense reports, ignored meetings and refused time and again to carry out orders.
Most of all, they claimed he had failed to carry out a single spectacular operation, despite the resources at his disposal.
The employee, international terrorist Moktar Belmoktar, responded the way talented employees with bruised egos have in corporations the world over. He quit and formed his own group, which would compete directly with his former employer. And within months, he carried out two lethal operations that killed 101 people in all: one of the largest hostage-takings in history at a BP-operated gas plant in Algeria in January, and simultaneous bombings at a military base and a French uranium mine in Niger just last week.
The internal al-Qaida letter, found by The Associated Press inside a building occupied by al-Qaida in northern Mali, is an intimate window into the ascent of an extremely ambitious terrorist leader, who split off from the group's regional branch in Algeria because he wanted to be directly in touch with al-Qaida's central command. It's a glimpse into both the inner workings of a highly structured terrorist organization that requires its commanders to file monthly expense reports, and the internal dissent that led to his rise. And it foreshadows a terrorism landscape where charismatic jihadists can carry out attacks directly in al-Qaida's name, regardless of whether they are under its command.