A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda
Robert R. Fowler
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For decades, Robert R. Fowler was a dominant force in Canadian foreign affairs. In one heart-stopping minute, all of that changed. On December 14, 2008, Fowler, acting as the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Niger, was kidnapped by Al Qaeda, becoming the highest ranked UN official ever held captive. Along with his colleague Louis Guay, Fowler lived, slept and ate with his captors for nearly five months, gaining rare first-hand insight into the motivations of the world's most feared terror group. Fowler's capture, release and subsequent appearances have helped shed new light on foreign policy and security issues as we enter the second decade of the " War on Terror."
A Season in Hell is Fowler's compelling story of his captivity, told in his own words, but it's also a startlingly frank discussion about the state of a world redefined by clashing civilizations.
Chaffi to my right and Baba, who had left Abou Zeid sitting with a couple of his fighters about twenty metres away only moments before, was now at the wheel. Belmokhtar’s troops, fully armed, pressed around all three vehicles facing outward. As soon as the women were loaded, Belmokhtar, standing beside the driver’s window, ordered Baba with a sweep of his hand, “Leave—immediately!” Suddenly Omar One knocked on the passenger window. When Chaffi opened it, Omar, wagging his finger at me, reminded
In nearly twenty years, Algeria has failed to eradicate the Salafist threat (FIS, GIA, GSPC, and AQIM) despite using tactics that, recalling Dean Acheson’s memorable application of Wordsworth to his impression of Canada, would have caused the “stern daughter of the voice of God” to quiver with indignation—had we paid much attention. In October 2010, on the ninth anniversary of “the American invasion,” there were 120,000 troops from forty-seven coalition countries in Afghanistan, as the Taliban
fired a rocket-propelled grenade through one of our blankets. I thought the cavalry was coming. On arrival at Camp Canada, I knew I had to find some way to keep track of the passage of time. Otherwise, I feared I would lose my tenuous hold on reality. Each line on my belt represents a day of captivity. On arrival at TV Camp, Omar One reverently explained the merits of the arak root, called miswak, extolled in the Qur’an and from which we made toothbrushes. We were each given a pair of
system. “Things are much more efficient these days. It’s all done with a few computer keystrokes—a simple bank transfer into the account of people in whom we have confidence. It’s finished in thirty seconds.” How tidy, I thought, and how unrealistic—at least as far as we were concerned. We knew it wasn’t going to go down like that, but I don’t know what Omar really believed. Now in complete darkness, there was a last satellite-phone call and, with a new determination and focus, we headed down
remove our rings. Hassan produced soap, but they would not budge, even in our increasingly emaciated state. Eventually, Hassan just threw up his hands and stomped off, a rather happy outcome, given the alternatives. The most prominent among the children was, without a doubt, the infelicitously named Al Zarqawi, a small, very European-looking boy of twelve or thirteen. He was something of a mascot for the group, which loved to encourage his aggressive swagger and preposterous, macho posturing.