Last year, Rukmini Callimachi found thousands of al-Qaida documents in Timbuktu in northern Mali when she was the West Africa bureau chief for the Associated Press.
Al-Qaida left behind the pages just after a French-led military intervention drove the jihadi fighters out of the area, where they had imposed a harsh version of Islamic law. The documents include directives and letters from al-Qaida commanders.
In the interview, Callimachi tells Terry Gross about al-Qaida’s highly detailed record-keeping:
"When I came back with these receipts, and we started translating them, these thousands and thousands of receipts for things like onions and a kilo of tomatoes and a receipt for a 60-cent piece of cake that somebody ate — it made us laugh. And I guess it made us laugh because we assumed that terrorists are these bad guys with guns — and violent, et cetera — and we have assumed that’s divorced from these bureaucratic procedures that we see at play here.
In fact, people that have covered al-Qaida and studied the group longer than me, say they’ve found the exact same thing in Afghanistan. It’s partly the DNA of Osama bin Laden, who started out life as a businessman. He was the son of a very wealthy entrepreneur, and he started out as a young man trying to run his own companies. … Even when he ran his own companies, he was obsessed with bureaucracy. People that worked for him in Sidon [in Lebanon] remember having to turn in triplicate receipts with carbon copies for things like replacing bicycle tires or car tires.”
Photo: A road sign written by Islamist rebels is seen at the entrance into Timbuktu January 31, 2013. File photo
Image by: BENOIT TESSIER / REUTERS
Sign says, “Timbuktu is founded on Islam and will be judged by Islamic Laws (Charia)”