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Dakar Rally Canceled Due to al-Qaeda Threat

A previous report published here at ThreatsWatch detailed the emerging presence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) outside of its nation of origin, Algeria, in the northwest African nation of Mauritania. That report provided information on two recent terrorist strikes perpetrated by AQIM in Mauritania in late December, the first a shooting attack against a family of French tourists, and the second against a contingent of Mauritanian soldiers. Further noted was the 'up in the air' status of the Dakar Rally, a cross-Saharan car and motorcycle race set to begin in Lisbon, Portugal on January 5 and end in Dakar, Senegal sixteen days later. Eight out of fifteen stages of the race were set to take place in Mauritania, but in light of these recent attacks, fears were raised that the race might be a target as well. Now, those fears have been realized, with the race canceled on January 4 as a result. According to the Associated Press:

Al-Qaida threats against the Dakar Rally and an attack in Mauritania forced organizers to cancel the annual race on Friday, the eve of the 5,760-mile trek across North African desert scrubland and savannah. It was the first time the automobile, motorbike and truck rally has been called off in its 30-year history. In a statement, organizers blamed "threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organizations." the Dec. 24 killings of a French family and international tensions.

As a response to the previous AQIM attacks, the Mauritanian government had pledged to mobilize a significant security contingent in response to the heightened threat environment, but race organizers did not wish to risk the chances of an attack against any participants or spectators. The cancellation of the race is a big blow to Mauritania as the race provides a significant inflow of revenue into the impoverished country. AQIM made reference to the rally in a posting on an Internet forum as it took credit for the December 26 attack that killed three Mauritanian soldiers:

"This operation came at a time when the sky of beloved Nouakchott is sullied by the Israeli flag fluttering over it, at a time when the Mauritanian regime remains (an agent) of the crusaders, detaining Muslim youth and starving the Mauritanian people while guarding its masters, securing for the infidels a suitable climate for the 'Rally' and... fighting the mujahedeen under the banner of the cross," it said.

The cancellation of this race should make clear to all that al-Qaeda is far from a defeated organization, that even as it and its affiliates have suffered major setbacks in Iraq, the jihad continues in areas of the world as far flung from one another as Mauritania on the Atlantic Ocean to Pakistan on the Arabian Sea. The disruption of the rally is a major victory for AQIM, which reportedly has only has a few dozen members in Mauritania.