JANUARY 4, 2008

Why they cancelled the Dakar

The Dakar Rally has been cancelled because on an attack that place on five French tourists on December 24. 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 intentiuon 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.

Three days later three Mauritanian soldiers were killed in a separate attack in the north of the country. The Mauritanian government says that the attacks are isolated incidents and are not indicative of unrest in the country but the Amaury Sports Organisation, which promotes the Dakar, said that they had received direct threats from terrorist organisations and that their first priority was to guarantee the safety of all: including the populations in the countries visited, the competitors, team personnel, journalists, partners and rally collaborators and said that there can be no compromise in this respect. Mauritania had mobilised its 3000-strong army to protect the rally.

The ASO condemned the terrorist menace that "annihilates a year of hard work, engagement and passion for all the participants and the different actors of the worlds biggest off-road rally".

The ASO says that the cancellation will not endanger the future of the Dakar and that it will push ahead to organise a new adventure for 2009.

It remains to be seen whether Mauritania will be on the route.

Stages in neighbouring Mali were cancelled last year after French security services, alerted by the US authorities, cited a threat to the rally.