The French driver Philippe Boutron, competing in the Dakar Rally 2021 in Saudi Arabia for the Sodicars team, was seriously injured in the explosion of a bomb that hit the team’s support vehicle in Jeddah.
French prosecutors announced on Tuesday that they had opened a terrorism investigation into an explosion that occurred under a French vehicle involved in the Dakar rally in Saudi Arabia.
Philippe Boutron seriously injured in the leg
The explosion, which seriously injured one of the rally’s competitors, hit a support vehicle belonging to the French team Sodicars shortly after leaving its hotel in the Saudi city of Jeddah for the race route, according to the testimonies of the team and the organizers of the race.
Five team members were then on board the vehicle and one of them, the driver Philippe Boutron, was seriously injured in the leg. French newspaper L’Equipe quoted a teammate as saying the blast went through the floor of the vehicle, which then burst into flames.
Race director David Castera told L’Equipe that the two-week race would go ahead and that he had asked the Saudi authorities to assign more police to protect the rally. “There is a large police presence,” he said.
Boutron has now been evacuated to France and is in a medically induced coma at the military hospital in Percy, near Paris, with his family at his bedside, his team said in a statement.
News of the blast emerged over the weekend, but at the time rally organizers and the sport’s governing body said there was no explanation for what happened.
French anti-terrorist pursuers investigate
French anti-terrorism prosecutors, in a statement on Tuesday, said they had opened a preliminary investigation into a terrorist-motivated assassination attempt.
The statement said the investigation was entrusted to France’s national counter-terrorism agency.
The Saudi government’s media office, CIC, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Saudi Arabia was the scene of a series of large-scale militant attacks against Western targets in the 2000s. Attacks have since subsided.
But in late 2020, an explosion at a World War I remembrance ceremony hosted by the French consulate in Jeddah injured several people, in the first bombing attack in years to attempt to hit foreigners in the Gulf Arab state.
The previous month, a Saudi man was arrested after attacking and injuring a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah.
The Dakar, now in its 44th edition, began in 1978 as a race from Paris to the Senegalese capital but moved from Africa to South America for security reasons in 2009. It takes place entirely in Saudi Arabia since 2020.
In March this year, the Corniche racing circuit in Jeddah will host a round of the most prestigious competition in the world of motorsport, Formula 1. (Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Nicolas Delame – Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous Aziz El Yaakoubi and Alan Baldwin)