Dakar Rally canceled due to terrorist threat
Given the renewed fever with which people are wary of Al Qaeda these days (Pakistani President Musharraf has linked the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the organization), it's not altogether surprising that this race has been canceled this year. In particular, organizers are concerned with a terrorist cell in Mauritania near the race site which was recently linked to the death of a French family of tourists there.
While this is the first time the race has been canceled in its thirty year history, it's also reportedly the first time the race has ever received "direct threats" from terrorist groups. What exactly those threats are has yet to be illuminated.
The annual Dakar Rally was cancelled Friday on the eve of the race across the Sahara Desert because of terror threats and the recent killings of a French family in Mauritania blamed on al-Qaeda-linked militants.
It was the first time in the 30-year history of the automobile, motorbike and truck race that it has been called off. In a statement, organizers blamed international tensions, the tourists' Dec. 24 murders and “threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organizations.”
The race's central appeal — its course through African deserts, scrubland and savannas — is also its weak point, making it difficult to protect thousands of people as they traverse such remote regions.
The race originated in 1978, a year after racer Thierry Sabine got lost in the desert and decided this would be a good location for a regular rally. Originally, the rally was from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, interrupted by a transfer across the Mediterranean.
However, due to politics and other factors, the course, including origin and destination, have varied over the years. Dakar has been the destination city on all but four occasions. The rally began at Paris each year until 1995. In 1994 the rally both began and ended in Paris, but due to complaints by the mayor, the finish had to be moved from the
Champs-Élysées to Euro Disney. This also caused the organisation to lay out the rally through different locations in following years.