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Canadian Military Journal

A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda

Robert R. Fowler
Robert R. Fowler
Abstract :

Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler tells his story of captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) of North Western Africa.  A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda is Fowler's personal, almost-daily account as a hostage of AQIM.  Fowler breaks his 2008 - 2009 kidnapping into five distinct parts.  Part One is "The Descent into Hell," chronicling his special mission to Niger, and his eventual capture. "Prisoners of Al Qaeda in the Sahara," Part Two, provides a detailed description of his captors and their mode of survival in the foreboding desert. Within Part Three, "The Middle Game," the author recalls the glimmer of hope presented at 80 days into his captivity when he finally receives word from the outside world. In  Part Four, "The End Game," Fowler summarizes the prolonged process leading to his ultimate release. Finally, "The Aftermath" chronicles Fowler's personal reflections upon his own captivity, intertwined with new up-to-date revelations made available at the time of this book's release in 2011. Each part of this book describes a set of emotions or like occurrences, giving the book less of a feel as a survival diary, and more that of a summary of experiences.

What makes Fowler's book significant is the account of the day-to-day operations of an Al Qaeda affiliate. Western academics and intelligence services have posited for years their hypotheses of the inner workings of AQIM.  Fowler gives a detailed first-person account that serves to better inform the theorists with respect to the realities of AQIM. An example is the notion that the Southern forces of AQIM were independent and not strongly tied to the AQIM of Algeria. This opinion was and still is strongly held by both the British and US military intelligence services. One theory is that AQIM is just a bunch of bandits and opportunists, and they are not really focused upon the religious cause of jihad, as posited by renowned AQIM researcher Jean-Pierre Filiu in his article "Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb: A Case Study in Opportunism of Global Jihad." Still other theorists believe that AQIM is an expanding regional threat that has changed its focus from an Islamic Algerian state to the ‘Islamisation’ of the Sahel; as proposed by Modibo Goita in "West Africa's Growing Terrorist Threat."  Fowler rebuts all of these claims in detail.

During his captivity, he meticulously observed his captors, and he provides some insights into AQIM itself. First, he posits that AQIM's leadership is entirely Algerian, while the Sahelians of AQIM are relegated to "enlisted" or subordinate roles. The racial tension is noticeable within the AQIM ranks, specifically against the black Africans.

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A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda

Date Deposited : 08 Apr 2015 11:09

Last Modified : 08 Apr 2015 11:09

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Volume 13, Number 1, - 2013

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