Dakar Rally car blast reportedly caused by a bomb

Philippe Boutron and Mayeul Barbet racing in the 2020 Dakar Rally. (Reuters)

PARIS — An explosion under a support vehicle at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia that injured French race driver Philippe Boutron on Dec. 30 was caused by an improvised explosive device, a French source familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

Confirming a report by RTL radio, the source told Reuters that investigators had found traces of explosives on Boutron’s wrecked vehicle in Saudi Arabia.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that there were suspicions of a terrorist attack, but Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said on Jan. 8 that an initial investigation into the blast had not raised any criminal suspicions.

A second explosion at the Dakar rally, under a truck belonging to the team of Camelia Liparoti on Dec. 31, is also under investigation by French police. French radio RMC said the truck’s driver heard a “boom” before a fire broke out.

French anti-terrorism prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the explosion in January. French RMC radio reported that a team including French DGSI secret service agents and an investigating magistrate traveled to Saudi Arabia, where the rally was held, for several days. They also questioned witnesses in France upon their return from Saudi Arabia.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the time that “there were hypotheses” that the incident “was a terrorist attack”.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said on Jan. 8 that an initial investigation into the first blast had not raised any criminal suspicions. But French authorities said the Saudis were cooperating with the investigation.

The Dakar Rally was originally a race from Paris to Dakar, Senegal, but it was moved to South America for 2009-2019 because of political unrest in Africa. It was moved again, to Saudi Arabia, in 2020.

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