DIABALY, Maliā€”Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb intended this desert country to serve as a base for its jihad across Africa. But in the towns Islamist fighters occupied and recently abandoned, the insurgency wasn’t able to keep its African allies from angering locals they were supposed to woo.

In the days before French tanks chased them from the central Mali town of Diabaly, AQIM leaders passed out vegetables and preached about Islamic values, residents said. Other gunmen undermined efforts to win over converts to their puritanical faith by looting shops, stealing sheep and sniffing cocaine.

“They spoke to us about …

Islamists Falter in Bid for Mali’s Hearts and Minds – Wall Street Journal
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