The Dakar Rally is underway in Saudi Arabia, but an explosion in the run up to the annual race has thrown an ominous shadow over the off-road spectacle.
On December 30th, an explosion damaged a support car for the French Sodicars Dakar team. The blast hit one of the team’s cars as it headed to the course from the city of Jeddah.
News agency Reuters reported that the blast seriously injured one of the team’s drivers.
According to the report, five members of the Sodicars team were in the vehicle at the time of the incident. Driver Philippe Boutron sustained serious leg injuries and has since been evacuated to France to receive medical treatment.
In a statement, the Sodicars team said that Boutron had been placed into a medically-induced coma at the Percy Military Hospital, near Paris. The 61-year-old driver was initially treated for his injuries at a military hospital in Saudi Arabia.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia initially said the incident was “an accident.” But now, lawmakers are treating the incident as a terrorist act. Reuters reports that a terrorism probe has been launched by lawmakers in France, where the Sodicars team is based.
The report said:
“France’s anti-terrorist prosecutors, in a statement issued on Tuesday, said they had launched a preliminary investigation into a terrorism-motivated assassination attempt.
“The statement said that the investigation had been entrusted to France’s domestic counter-terrorism agency.”
So far, no explosive devices have been discovered at the scene of the incident at this stage. But, the Sodicars team reported that witness statements and “material elements” led the anti-terrorism investigators to open the probe.
“We saw the impact on the vehicle, we are not stupid, we know that it is also an explosion,” said Thierry Richard, who was driving the truck as it was hit by the explosive.
In the aftermath of the incident, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on its nationals to exercise “maximum vigilance” when in Saudia Arabia.
Lawmakers in France added that “the hypothesis of a criminal act” was “not ruled out”.
The Dakar Rally runs in Saudia Arabia until January 14th. The eyes of the motorsport community will soon return to the state in March, when Formula 1 returns to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.