TIMBUKTU, Mali

Left-behind document reveals al-Qaida strategies

In their hurry to flee last month, al-Qaida fighters left behind a crucial document: Tucked under a pile of papers and trash is a confidential letter, spelling out the terror network’s strategy for conquering northern Mali and reflecting internal discord over how to rule the region.

The document is an unprecedented window into the terrorist operation, indicating that al-Qaida predicted the military intervention that would dislodge it in January and recognized its own vulnerability.

The letter also shows sharp division within al-Qaida’s Africa chapter over how quickly and how strictly to apply Islamic law, with its senior commander expressing dismay over the whipping of women and the destruction of Timbuktu’s ancient monuments.

It also leaves no doubt that despite a temporary withdrawal into the desert, al-Qaida plans to operate in the region over the long haul, and is willing to make short-term concessions on ideology to gain the allies it acknowledges it needs.

SAO PAULO

Journalists held in prisons hits all-time high globally

A record number of journalists were imprisoned worldwide in 2012 in a “deteriorating environment for press freedom,” a leading media advocacy group said Thursday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in its annual “Attacks on the Press” report that 232 journalists were jailed last year in a “trend driven primarily by terrorism and other anti-state charges levied against critical reporters and editors.” It said the number was the highest since it made its first survey in 1990.

The report said 70 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2012 — 43 percent more than in 2011.

DALLAS

American Airlines faces major challenges ahead

US Airways CEO Doug Parker has landed the big merger he sought for years. Now the soon-to-be CEO of the new American Airlines has to make it work.

The fleet needs new planes and new paint. Frequent flier programs have to be combined. American’s on-time performance must improve. And the airline needs to win back business travelers who have drifted to competitors.

After months of courting, the companies on Thursday announced an $11 billion merger that will turn American into the world’s biggest airline, with 6,700 daily flights and annual revenue of roughly $40 billion. It’s a coup for Parker, who runs the much-smaller US Airways Group Inc. and believes that mergers help airlines’ revenues and profits.

When the deal closes later this year, the four biggest U.S. airlines — American, United, Delta and Southwest — will all be the products of mergers that began in 2008. Those deals have helped the industry control seats, push fares higher and return to profitability. But it’s not easy to stitch two airlines together.

Some of Parker’s work has already been done. American parent AMR Corp. has cut costs and debt since it filed for bankruptcy protection in late 2011. And pilots from both airlines have agreed on steps that should make it easier to combine their groups under a single labor contract.

– From news service reports