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Day 69: I-n-Guezzam

Michael Palin - SaharaEveryone tells me, however, that the worst of the trouble is confined to the north, where 85 per cent of the population lives. Everyone, that is, but the driver who is at this very moment carrying me across a swathe of flat, gritty desert (reg as opposed to erg) towards the border town of I-n-Guezzam.

His small talk features mouth-drying accounts of the extreme lawlessness of the Sahara. Smuggling is a way of life. Mostly cigarettes, made illegally in Nigeria and brought north by the truckload. Governments have little influence in isolated areas still controlled by local warlords.

Had I not heard of Mokhtar ben Mokhtar, alias Louar, the One-Eyed One?

I shake my head, 'Qu'est-ce qu'il fait?'

My driver can't believe his luck. 'Qu'est-ce qu'il fait!'

He's stockpiled thousands of illegal weapons, stolen several hundred four-wheel drives and shot down an aircraft. He has a fleet of vehicles equipped with satellite navigation, armed with AK-47s and refuelled from dumps deep in the sand. An entire Dakar Rally had once been diverted to avoid going through his territory.

'Which is where, exactly?'

My driver gestures, a circular motion of the right hand that leaves little room for doubt. Wherever it was that Mokhtar ben Mokhtar operated, we're in the middle of it.

'I was told it was Islamic fundamentalists that stopped the Rally.'
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 69
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: I-n-Guezzam
  • Book page no: 192

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