Neighbors say they saw foreign fighters running laps each day, carrying out target practice and inhaling and holding their breath with a pipe-like object on their shoulder. The drill is standard practice for shoulder-held missiles, including the SA-7.
As the jihadists fled ahead of the arrival of French troops who liberated Timbuktu on Jan. 28, they left the manual behind, along with other instructional material, including a spiral-bound pamphlet showing how to use the KPV-14.5 anti-aircraft machine gun and another on how to make a bomb out of ammonium nitrate, among other documents retrieved by the AP. Residents said the jihadists grabbed reams of paper from inside the building, doused them in fuel and set them alight. The black, feathery ash lay on top of the sand in a ditch just outside the building's gate.
However, numerous buildings were still full of scattered papers.
"They just couldn't destroy everything," said neighbor Mohamed Alassane. "They appeared to be in a panic when the French came. They left in a state of disorder."
The manual is illustrated with grainy images of Soviet-looking soldiers firing the weapon. Point-by-point instructions explain how to insert the battery, focus on the target and fire.
The manual also explains that the missile will malfunction above 45 degrees Celsius, the temperature in the deserts north of Timbuktu. And it advises the shooter to change immediately into a second set of clothes after firing to avoid detection.
Its pages are numbered 313 through 338, suggesting they came from elsewhere. Mathieu Guidere, an expert on Islamic extremists at the University of Toulouse, believes the excerpts are lifted from the Encyclopedia of Jihad, an 11-volume survey on the craft of war first compiled by the Taliban in the 1990s and later codified by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, who led a contingent of Arab fighters in Afghanistan at the time, paid to have the encyclopedia translated into Arabic, according to Guidere, author of a book on al-Qaida's North African branch.
However, the cover page of the manual boasts the name of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
"It's a way to make it their own," said Guidere. "It's like putting a logo on something. ... It shows the historic as well as the present link between al-Qaida core and AQIM."
Bin Laden later assembled a team of editors to update the manual, put it on CD-ROMs and eventually place it on the Internet, in a move that lay the groundwork for the globalization of jihad, according to terrorism expert Jarret Brachman, who was the director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center when the al-Qaida encyclopedia was first found.
N.R. Jenzen-Jones, an arms expert in Australia, confirmed that the information in the manual in Timbuktu on the missile's engagement range, altitude and weight appeared largely correct. He cautions though that the history of the SA-7 is one of near-misses, specifically because it takes training to use.
"Even if you get your hands on an SA-7, it's no guarantee of success," he said. "However, if someone manages to take down a civilian aircraft, it's hundreds of dead instantly. It's a high impact, low-frequency event, and it sows a lot of fear."
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed to this report from Paris, and AP journalist Amir Bibawy translated the document. Callimachi reported this article in Timbuktu, Mali and in Dakar, Senegal.
The document from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Arabic and English can be seen at http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/—international/—pdfs/al-qaida-papers-dangerous-weapon.pdf