2008 Edition Of The Dakar Rally Cancelled

In a stunning development today, organizers of the Dakar Rally announced that the 29th running of the event has been cancelled due to security threat made to competitors. Four French tourists were murdered in Mauritania on December 24th, which led to the French government advising against any travel to the country.

Nine of the rally’s stages were scheduled to pass through Mauritania.

The English site, is reporting, ?The group were on holiday in Mauritania and had stopped for a picnic beside the main road between the capital Nouakchott and the town of Aleg, 250 to the south-west, close to the Senegal border. The three attackers opened fire on the French party with an automatic weapon, killing four of them and seriously injuring a fifth. They then left the scene in a white Mercedes-Benz which was later found abandoned. A woman was later arrested for helping the attackers to escape by boat into Senegal. The tourists were not robbed and this led to the belief that the attack was carried out by an Al-Qaeda offshoot called the Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat (GSPC). This Sunni Islamist militia aims to overthrow the Algerian government and institute an Islamic state there. The group has declared its intention to attack Algerian, French, and American targets and has been officially designated as a terrorist organization both the US and European authorities. It grew out of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria back in 1998.?

There has been other unrest in the country as three days later three Mauritanian soldiers were killed in an attack in the northern part of the country. The Mauritanian government has downplayed the attacks blaming them as isolated incidents. However, the Dakar promoter and organizer, Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), acknowledged they had received direct threats from terrorist organizations. Citing safety to the competitors as first priority, as well as the safety of the populations in the countries visited, journalists and rally collaborators, they made the decision to cancel the 2008 event. It was also reported that Mauritania had mobilized its 3000-strong army to help protect the rally.

The ASO condemned the terrorist attack and added, “(It) annihilates a year of hard work, engagement and passion for all the participants and the different actors of the world?s biggest off-road rally”. The release added, “The Dakar is a symbol and nothing can destroy symbols. The cancellation of the 2008 edition does not endanger the future of the Dakar. To offer, for 2009 a new adventure to all the off-road rally passionate is a challenge that A.S.O. will take on in the months to come, faithful to its engagement and its passion for sports.”

It is notable that stages in Mali which abuts Mauritania were cancelled last year for French security reasons after U.S. authorities warned of a threat to the rally.

Over 550 teams had registered for this true world event including former downhill skiers Luc Alphand and Carolle Montillet, NASCAR driver and Dakar rally veteran, Robby Gordon and former Formula One drivers Tiago Monteiro and Ukyo Katayama.

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