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Dakar Dakar

French anti-terror agency to investigate Dakar Rally blast

The French anti-terrorist prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into the explosion that seriously injured a driver before the start of the Dakar Rally in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

#358 Laurent Foucquet Sodicars: Philippe Boutron

The explosion at the Donatello Hotel in Jeddah on 30 December injured Frenchman Philippe Boutron, a driver for the Sodicars Racing team.

Event organisers the ASO subsequently reinforced security at the bivouacs in the days after the incident, and the French anti-terrorist agency has now announced that it is investigating the circumstances. 

The explosion, which was already being investigated by the Saudi Arabian police, occurred in the French team’s assistance car, that was carrying five other people along with driver Boutron.

He suffered serious leg injuries that required emergency surgery, and has since been airlifted back to France at Percy Military Hospital in Paris and placed into an induced coma.

A statement from Sodicars Racing confirmed: “He was immediately taken care of by the medical teams, he is in the hands of experts and is accompanied by his family. His legs were damaged by the explosion and he was placed in an artificial coma to alleviate his suffering.”

Rally organisers have limited themselves to speaking of a “malicious act”, but the question remains as to whether it was a terrorist incident.

A statement issued on Tuesday evening from the French anti-terrorist prosecutor's office said it has begun investigating the “attempted murder linked to a terrorist enterprise”, with investigations entrusted to the Directorate-General for Internal Security.

Since the incident, Boutron's co-driver Mayeul Barbet has been quoted as saying: “Philippe was at the wheel and the bomb placed in the bottom of the car under the pedal exploded 500 metres from the hotel. At that moment, there were six of us in the car and we were shocked and didn't move.  

“Then the car started to burn and Philippe asked me to go and help him out of the seat. He couldn't feel his legs.”

Boutron, pictured on the 2021 Dakar, has been evacuated back to France to receive further treatment

Boutron, pictured on the 2021 Dakar, has been evacuated back to France to receive further treatment

Photo by: A.S.O.

The French foreign ministry has made it clear that all the evidence collected in Jeddah will be reviewed to determine what exactly caused the explosion. 

“An investigation is underway in Arabia to determine the cause of the explosion," the French government agency confirmed. “The hypothesis of a criminal act has not been ruled out.” 

The rally is currently being led by Toyota driver Nasser Al-Attiyah, despite the three-time Dakar winner only finishing eighth on Stage 3. 

Carlos Sainz set the fastest time for Audi, the first stage win for the new electric car that is making its competition debut. 

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