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The BBC's Jim Fish
"The show must go on"
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Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 11:23 GMT
Terror threat forces Dakar airlift

Rally vehicle Probably the toughest rally in the world

A big airlift operation has begun to transport hundreds of drivers and vehicles taking part in the Dakar motor rally after organisers were warned of a terrorist threat.

The airlift from Niamey in Niger was organised after the French Government told race organisers that extremists planned to target the next stage of the rally, which runs just south of the Algerian border.

A serious risk of an external terrorist attack
French Government
Algerian Islamists are being blamed for the disruption, which will cost several million dollars.

Three giant Antonov transport planes are carrying out 18 round trips, flying vehicles, drivers and support staff about 1,500km across the Sahara desert.

More than 1,000 drivers and support team members and their 500 vehicles will be ferried to Sabha, in southern Libya, where the race is to resume early next week.

Race organisers, the Thierry Sabine Organisation (TSO), made the decision after the French Government said there was "a serious risk of an external terrorist attack" on the race during the its five-day passage through Niger.

The US State Department also warned of a security threat somewhere along the route.

Dakar Rally 2000
11,000km over 17 stages
Passes through 6 countries
407 entries, 31 nationalities
Over half usually drop out
Finish at foot of Pyramids
TSO said it had received the full co-operation of the Niger authorities and an offer of protection, but added that security was its first priority.

French security sources reportedly said airborne reconnaissance units had uncovered the planned attack, which came from outside Niger.

The chief rally organiser, Hubert Auriol, said the threat came from Islamist rebels originating from Algeria.

Click here for a map of the rally

The Niger Government reacted unhappily to the TSO decision, saying all necessary precautions had been taken.

Tourism minister Rhissa Ag Boula said that security forces in Niger had been employed for some time along the route "to avert any act of sabotage".

"Everything has been done to ensure the competitors' security throughout Niger," he said.

Desert rally

The four cancelled legs would have involved racing across about 3,000km (2,000 miles) of desert terrain.

Motorcycle competitor Motorcycles, cars and trucks take part in the rally

The race, which involves cars, trucks and motorcycles, was originally between Paris and Dakar, but has taken different routes in recent years.

This year's event, which covers almost 11,000km (6,900 miles) in 17 stages, is confined to North Africa.

It was scheduled to run through Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya before ending in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on 23 January.

The rally has taken a regular toll of spectators, participants and reporters over its 22 years - at least 38 have died.

Last year, an armed gang in Mauritania robbed 52 competitors. As they drove away with eight vehicles, money and other valuables, the gang's leader waved, shouting: "See you next year!"

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13 Jan 00 |  Africa
Desert airlift: In pictures
14 Jan 99 |  Africa
Rally drivers ambushed
13 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Algeria braces for end to amnesty

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