France accuses Saudi Arabia of Dakar Rally blast coverup
A blast outside a hotel in Jeddah last month, seriously injured French driver Philippe Boutron, who was evacuated to a hospital in France and placed into a medically induced coma.
“We told the organisers and the Saudi officials to be very transparent on what had happened because there were hypothesis that it was a terrorist attack,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said to BFM TV and RMC Radio.
A “preliminary evidence-gathering” procedure by Saudi Arabia’s Public Security Department, found “no criminal suspicion”, but on Tuesday, French prosecutors announced that a terrorism investigation into the matter had been opened.
“There was perhaps a terrorist attack targeting the Dakar Rally,” he added.
Le Drian said investigators from France would be travelling to Saudi Arabia, adding that he believed that the famed rally should be cancelled.
“In these circumstances, one needs to be very precautionary,” the French Foreign Minister said.
Accusations of a coverup have also been made Team Sodicars, whose vehicles were hit by the blast.
“We must tell the truth. It was an attack, and not an accident as the Saudi authorities are trying to maintain. There was a bomb in the side rail of the vehicle, under the pedals,” a spokesperson for Sodicars said.
The Sodicars' team chairman has insisted that the blast was a targeted attack.
"I saw everything. It was a deliberate act, there’s no doubt about it," he said.
The Dakar Rally has been held in Saudi Arabia for the past three years, with the event viewed as an attempt by the conservative nation to reform its image and open the country up to the world, and its citizens to new forms of entertainment.
In addition to the Dakar Rally, Saudi Arabia has played host to other motor racing events, including hosting a Formula 1 race in December.
The French accusations of a coverup are likely to strain relations with Saudi Arabia, who otherwise have strong ties.
In December, French President Emmanuel Macron became the first Western leader to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, since the brutal murder of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.