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People are massacred in Algeria every day. Robert Young Pelton went there to untangle the web of Islamic insurgents and military death squads. . A study of fear and loathing in North Africa • • • • • * The views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively The gun went off in my hotel while I was strolling through the garden. The old gardener didn't even look up as I sniffed the air for the telltale smell of gunpowder. In Algeria, it is best not to be too inquisitive. Police described the two bombs that went off while I was there as "tiny things ... just little transistor toys." The explo­ sions that rocked the Casbah were considered warnings, not attacks. On the bright side no children had their throats slit and women went unmolested. A few people were killed but things were sunny. It was election time in Algeria. Why hell, even the journalists were laughing and joking in the tourist buses taking them to the massacre sites. As I send this story off for publication, more than 2,000 people have been killed since I was in town. Four hundred were killed on 30 December, the first night of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It was the biggest slaughter in six years of violence. The story rates about two paragraphs in the Los Angeles Times. The big story is Bill Clinton's new puppy. I went to Algeria as a tourist. I went because I told people it was the one place I would not go. I don't mind terror­ ists, but crazy terrorists are another thing. I wanted to see how people live under conditions of fear, to understand more about the world's most dangerous place. And I wanted to go at the most dangerous time-the regional elections. I think I also wanted to face my own fear, something some say I don't have.

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