"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Spies Die in the Sahel

Spies Die in the Sahel

One day,  an Algerian officer came knocking at my door, he was in civilian clothes, well-dressed and did not take off his dark sunglasses until he left.

"Mr. Abou cif? Jamal Abou cif?"

"And you are ?"

 "It's from the colonel, he wants to meet you in private."

Was it a trap? No, the colonel knew what I could do. The match took place in the grandstands of the stadium, among the supporters of the local team. It's me who had chosen that place. When he came to sit beside me, he handed me an envelope.

"Here are the photos of the four terrorists most wanted by our country." Their names were on the back. "One million dinars per head, dead or alive."

"I'm sorry; I'm not a bounty hunter."

"It's time to tell you that the vise clamps around you..."

"YYAEE!" The local team had just scored a goal. Standing with the supporters, I took off my glasses, revealing red eyes. "It seems that you didn’t take things seriously during our last interview."

"Oh, you know, you can threaten me as much as you want, it will not change your case. On the contrary, you only aggravate the situation. I've the matter in hand and I'm the only one able to exonerate you. You have killed two soldiers who I did not indicate yet in my reports."

At first, I wanted to be finished with this colonel once and for all, but I could no longer support being hunted, exiled with my children. He was more ambitious than I thought, we had to do fifty-fifty neither seen nor known. I had concealed my implication in this matter to my son, Mahdi, despite knowing that he would give me primordial support. So I had to count on Ladmek. 

It is not enough to pronounce the slogan that glorifies God and His prophet, as it’s the case for DAECH  to integrate AQIM or Al-Qaeda,  you must commit an attempt. To tell you, gentlemen, that among these people, one does not joke with the faith, oh no they don’t tolerate it. They are award by the Kalach-Nikov, those who grant their lives to establish the law. 

I had not yet left the national territory, the north of Mali was completely conquered by AQIM.



January 2015 - Tamanrasset

The good season for tourists, although their number has considerably decreased. What has increased is the impressive number of black African fleeing conflict and Starvation. To have a coffee, it was useful to go to the places which (displayed full), it was no more than to sit and to strain the ear. A truck of 20.000L of fuel had just been diverted yesterday to the north of Mali, was this the right track?                   

No, desert robbers have always existed. Among the Westerners, there are many who think that desert people are only made for raising cattle and picking dates at the harvest day. The caravan time is not completely over but the Toyota has replaced the camel and many of them preferred to bring Kalach-nikov instead of having their traditional sword.  Instead of transporting dates, salt or other foodstuffs, there are some who risk their lives by ensuring the transfer of cannabis resin from the western border of Morocco to Libya. Yes, sir, those who claim to fight terrorism contribute indirectly to its financing and I always told myself that my four outlaws were not of genre to fit into a pseudo Islamic state where there is amusement in wasting ammunition and slogging  Allah Akbar, I had to find another pipe, nothing is needed to run, we must start from scratch.                                                                                                                

An incognito of color had come to sit at my table:

 "Listen, brother, I have trouble..."

He knew how to express himself in French, and he was rather talkative. He took a coffee with me and then I invited him to share my dinner in my hotel room:

"How long have you been here?"

"It's my second year."

"And you still want to stay at Tamanrasset?"

"If I will not have my apparatus next week, I would be in the obligation to leave towards north."

"You can always consult another dentist and arrange with him an ease of payment." He had only a few, pitiful teeth.

"HAHAH, no it is called a metal detector, it looks like a vacuum cleaner used in households."

"Do you need that for your job?"

"It costs 100,000 dinars (1,800 euros), and it sells on the black market. It seems that you are not aware: there is gold around, dear brother. I do not say that there is a lot as to pick up with the shovel, but they are real nuggets of 24 carats scattered on the ground, barely hidden by a thin layer of sand, or stones."

"That explains the impressive number of Africans and all these people coming from the north."

"If you want to join us, I warn you, dice now. There are armed individuals among gold diggers."

"You have already ventured into this places at least?"

He answered affirmatively moving his head, he had not yet finished eating while I was preparing tea. Two cups of  tea and my package of Marlboro in the middle of the table, he grabbed a cigarette right away and I did the same.

"Yes, sir, they confiscated our gold harvest."

"The Tuaregs?" Negative was his answer.

"I have to leave now, I..."

"You did not drink your tea. Why are you in a hurry?"

"Thank you for the dinner. Well, we are not going to play cards now?"  

"Euuh, justly." As I stretched out my hand to reach my backpack on the bed, and from which I took the envelope handed over by the colonel, my sword had fallen to the ground. "Here are four cards on the table to begin the game." He got up by taking a step backward. "So, they were bearded men, white people with turbans who have confiscated your gold, isn't that?"

"Yes, I think it must be this one the others I don’t remember. You are not going to face them with your sword?"

"Your passport, brother." One would say that his eyes came out of his head when he saw my automatic weapon pointed at him

"Listen, sir, my stay has just expired,  I intend to go to Algiers to the consulate…"

"Stop," I said, "stop , I'm not what you believe. I just want to make sure that you come back tomorrow morning to show me the way."



"He's down there at the bottom of the mountain, in the dry river, but they're six,” Lamek told me.

I knew that it was not going to be long in locating him. Pointed in the right place, I watched them at a distance and like any self-respecting hiker, there was enough food in my bag as well as two bottles of mineral water. It would be long and not be easy.

There was someone who had moved away from the group, for his needs no doubt. He was not my guy. In the early morning, three of them had gone, mine was rolling a barrel of gasoline with his foot. Where did he want to go? By throwing a glance all around, I had seen their vehicle hidden among the bushes. It was time to act, less the two others joined him.

"Don’t move."

His Kalash-Nikov was hanging on his shoulder. "Are you an envoy of the colonel?" Then he put his hand in his pocket.

"Stop! You're dead, you will cause me less trouble so don’t play the idiot." He threw in my direction a little plastic box, it was transparent and in the twinkling of an eye I could see that it was gold inside.

"Pick up the box and tell him that the harvest was lean this month. What are you waiting for? Go, shoot, it's going to be your turn soon. Another  dumbass agent like you will come to make you the skin."

The shock was such that I almost knocked down my pistol. So, it was not just me with whom the colonel was doing business. I have said that in life I hate waiting, but being taken for a dumbass is something I never tolerate. 



Friday, May 13th, 2016

Nothing special in the headlines of the newspapers, although an Algerian tourist was found dead at dawn on Sousse beach in Tunisia. The autopsy will surely confirm a drowning, asphyxia or strangulation. Considering his identity, I'll let you guess, but my wife tells me that someone has become a grandparent.

"It's a boy, his wife has just given birth in Italy in his country of origin."

At hearing to Melouka, it seems that she didn't show a great enthusiasm. Nor me either, as a matter of fact; my wife never took too much in heart about the arrival of Valeta in the family.


Talk of the Devil. "Then, son, ready to run away to Italy or maybe Sicily?"

"I can't join Valeta on the phone."

"So how did you know?"

"I received an email from Bryan."

"Come here, El-Mahdi, I have to talk to you." The interview was in front of his mother, there was not much to conceal.

"See you later, Mom."

I think it was the first time she saw her son taking some fresh air with a weapon in his back , it did not surprise her. What she regretted was not having pocket money to give him. Later, when I threw the little plastic box in her arms as a sign of consolation, she could not hide her astonishment.

"Yes, Mimi, there is gold in Tamanrasset." When a truth follows another, the second assumes the presupposition.

She knew I wasn't made  for digging all day in the Sahara under a blazing sun. "Why should he not go to the authorities so that he can benefit from the law of national reconciliation, as all the others have done? Those who have thrown down the weapons. He hasn't participated in killings."

"Never, did you hear me? Nobody should know he is here except his  brothers."

This law is still in force, it cost billions to the Algerian government. Approved by the senate passed at the polls of the citizens. It was the yes which prevailed despite intense protests. So the repented are able to integrate into civilian life and take again their jobs. They have been paid with retroactive effect and have profit from many welfare benefits.

Yes, peace, it is bought.

Jamal Benbrahmi is a writer from Algeria. He crafts "Spies Die in the Sahel" as an authentic memory of a refugee. This is a translation of an original text written in French.

Cover photo by Hichem Meghachou on Unsplash

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