The Dakar Rally, the epic motorcycle, car and truck race across the Sahara desert, was canceled Friday by organizers citing “direct” threats of terrorism from al-Qaida-linked militants.
The race was deemed too inviting — and too easy — a target for the terror group's new north African affiliate. The roughly 550 competitors were to have embarked Saturday on the 16-day, 5,760-mile trek through remote and hostile dunes and scrub from Europe to Senegal in west Africa.
Organizers of the rally cited warnings from the French government about safety after the al-Qaida-linked Dec. 24 slaying of a family of French tourists in Mauritania — where eight of the competition's 15 stages were to be held — and “threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organizations.”
It was the first time that the 30-year-old rally, one of the biggest competitions in automobile racing, has been called off.
Victor Anderes, vice president of special projects at Global Security Associates, a New York-based firm that provides security for high-profile events including the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, called the cancellation unprecedented.
“Smaller cultural events have been canceled before because of terror threats, but this hasn't happened with such a major international event,” he said.
“The threat is significant,” Anderes added. “It would be almost impossible to secure the entire course.” He said the race is particularly vulnerable because it crosses different countries and large, unpopulated areas.
NASCAR star Robby Gordon and Team Dakar USA teammate Ronn Bailey talk about their frustrations and concerns about the danger in Africa in videos at robbysuprising.com