Kidnapped by Al-Qaeda: “A Season in Hell”

We crested a hill, and a long, empty valley stretched into the far distance. The view was lovely and peaceful. I was looking forward to a pleasant dinner in Niamey with Guy Villeneuve, head of the Canadian office, a dependency of the embassy located in faraway Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Louis was on his BlackBerry, arranging the details with Guy.

At this point, a pickup truck appeared out of nowhere and was quickly overtaking us. Its speed seemed out of place, as we were doing 120 kilometres per hour. As soon as it passed us, it slewed across our front, forcing Soumana to brake. “What the hell!” I exclaimed, woken out of my reverie with some surprise and annoyance, but by then Soumana was swinging out to pass the truck that had just cut us off. As soon as we moved left, so too did the truck, right off our front bumper, again blocking our progress and still slowing hard, forcing Soumana to brake to avoid plowing into it. As we pulled back into the right lane, so did the truck, which now occupied the centre of the road, clearly positioning itself to block the possibility that we might still try to pass to the right or left.

Both vehicles were in emergency stopping mode. Soumana was standing on the brakes, and it was all he could do to control our SUV. Before we came to a complete stop, I saw two African figures in the bed of the truck in front leap into action. One knelt, raising a Kalashnikov assault rifle, or an AK-47, and aimed from about four metres away through the windshield into our driver’s face.

This is from an article in this month’s Walrus magazine, in which Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler recounts how he and a colleague were kidnapped in Niger by Al-Qaeda. The article is itself an excerpt from Fowler’s new book, A Season in Hell, published last week by HarperCollins.

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