Former hostage: I was shamed by western use of torture

Empty coffins are transported to collect victims at desert gas plant in Algeria on January 21, 2012 in In Amenas.

Story highlights

  • Massacre in Algeria put into focus the threat of Islamist jihadists in Africa
  • Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by al Qaeda group in Niger and Mali
  • He shares his experience in an extract from his book, "A Season in Hell"
Last month's assault and massacre at the In-Amenas gas plant in Algeria by an al Qaeda battalion led by Moktar Belmoktar put into sharp focus the growing threat of Islamist jihadists in north and west Africa. It also brought back vivid memories of my own 130-day kidnap ordeal also at the hands of Belmoktar's al Qaeda group in Niger and Mali in 2008/09. Here is an extract from my book...
A Season in Hell
With some ceremony, a DVD was produced and inserted into the laptop drive and we were maneuvered around to have pride of place in front of the screen. The others pressed around, the younger ones in front. There were three or four pre-pubescent boys among them, their faces rapt with anticipation as their screen-lit faces excitedly tried to watch us and the laptop simultaneously.
Soon we heard a loud pulsing, urgent, musical beat and the screen was filled with a black flag, the lower half of which was covered with white Arabic script and in the upper portion, there was a globe surmounted by an AK-47 assault rifle; the Al Qaeda banner. Using the traditional and mandatory Islamic opening, a voice intoned in Arabic, "In the name of Allah the most merciful..." and the centre of the screen began to fill with images and vignettes of all kinds of horrors: those aircraft slamming into the twin towers. US and allied vehicles being destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices); video cameras slaved to the sights of Dragunov sniper rifles blasting the heads off GIs and then murdering those who came to their assistance; suicide bombers driving explosive-laden trucks through fences and into buildings or crowds immediately followed by massive explosions. Sometimes such scenes would carry sub-titles giving the date and location of the horror. In other instances, there would be clips of the happy, excited suicide bomber explaining his joy at the prospect of martyring himself for such a noble purpose.
There would also be clips of their "Great Emir", Bin Laden, uttering in his quiet and reasonable sounding voice his latest threats to tear the heart out of the degenerate West. Then some stocky, heavily bearded, white robed and turbaned American, who we were told was Adam Gadahn, a Jewish Californian convert to Islam and Al Qaeda, made his first of many appearances. Gadahn was ridiculing -- in English, with Arabic sub-titles -- the American President and issuing dire warnings aimed at US audiences of the disasters that would befall America if the USA and her allies did not quit "Muslim lands".
While Bin Laden was lionized by the young men around us, the star of each show was the brash, in-our-face (and happily defunct) Abou Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who was the former leader of the Iraqi franchise of Al Qaeda. Zarqawi had walked their talk regarding cleansing "Muslim lands" of the presence of infidels with passion, utter ruthlessness and without compromise. He was their man of action. He did, in their view, what others merely talked and fantasized about. The scene the young ones loved best on what we came to call "TV Night", was Zarqawi standing, legs planted wide, with a fierce and vicious open-mouthed grin on his face, firing the entire 100 round magazine of a SAW (a Belgian light machinegun), just past the camera with the sound jacked way up. We could almost hear his scream of whatever the Arabic equivalent is of "GET SOME!"
Each time an episode of mayhem and destruction would occur on the screen, the crowd pressing around Louis and me would shout, "Allahu Akbar" and immediately swivel their eyes to watch how we were enjoying the show. Without my glasses, I could read none of the signs or sub-titles, so Louis would read them out loud until I quietly asked him to stop. The video did not need a great deal of interpretation.
Obviously, these propaganda videos were intended to pump up the boys, to remind them that they were part of a large global cause in which sacrifice was a major element. And it was having the desired impact; particularly for the younger mujahideen whose eyes glistened with excitement as they watched the Western infidels being butchered and humiliated over and over again. The senior members of the Group were less caught up in the show and the laptop operator was choosing the clips to be dis