France mulls cancelling Dakar rally in wake of shock Saudi car blast

·2-min read

The French government is considering cancelling the Dakar rally as prosecutors investigate an explosion in Saudi Arabia that targeted a car and badly injured its French driver, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday.

"We thought that maybe it's best to abandon this sporting event ... the question remains open," Le Drian told BFM television on Friday, adding that "there was potentially a terror attack against the Dakar."

French prosecutors said Tuesday that they had opened a terror probe over a 30 December blast in Jeddah, which left 61-year-old driver Philippe Boutron needing surgery for serious leg injuries before he returned to France.

Boutron's son said Thursday that his father had emerged from a coma, though both legs remained "badly injured".

Saudi authorities and race organisers had indicated there was no criminal suspicion over the explosion, but France has warned its citizens in Saudi Arabia to excercise "maximum alertness – security risk" in the wake of the blast.

Criminal act 'not ruled out'

"The possibility of a criminal act has not been ruled out," the ministry said in updated guidance on its website.

"We have told organisers and Saudi authorities they must be transparent about what has happened, because there is a hypothesis that it could've been a terrorist act," Le Drian warned.

He adding there had already been terrorist acts against French interests in Saudi Arabia.

In October 2020, a guard at the French consulate in Jeddah was injured in a knife attack. Two weeks later, two people were injured in an attack during a ceremony in Jeddah marking the 11 November 1918 armistice, attended by western diplomats and French citizens.

Long history of concerns

The famous race, formerly known as the Paris-Dakar was created in 1979 by Thierry Sabine but is now known simple as The Dakar.

It used to start from the French capital following a route to the Senegalese capital Dakar but has changed location several times due to security issues.

In 1991, a French driver was shot dead in Mali. The suspects were never identified and the case was linked to the armed conflict in the region.

The race was cancelled in Algeria in 1993 due to threats from Islamist groups.

En 1996, in Morocco, a driver was killed by a mine explosion in a zone disputed by the army and the Polisario Front.

It was also cancelled in 2008 at the last minute due to terror threats from the Al-Qaeda group in Mauritania.

From 2009 it was held in South America and from 2020 in Saudi Arabia.

The final stage of this year's edition – known as the Dakar 2022 – is scheduled to take place on January 14.

(with wires)

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