France investigates possible second blast at Dakar rally in Saudi - French radio

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Rallying - Dakar Rally - Stage 2 - Al Wajh - Neom, Saudi Arabia - January 6, 2020 Sodicars Racing car driven by Philippe Boutron and Mayeul Barbet in action during stage two REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

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  • Rally competitor's truck caught fire on Dec. 31
  • Day before, explosion hit another team's vehicle
  • French anti-terror prosecutors probing first blast

PARIS, Jan 27 (Reuters) - French authorities are looking into a second potentially suspicious explosion at the Dakar sports car rally in Saudi Arabia last month, French radio station RMC reported on Thursday.

According to RMC, a truck belonging to the team of Franco-Italian rally competitor Camelia Liparoti caught fire on Dec. 31 after the driver heard a "boom". A day earlier an explosion under a support vehicle at the rally seriously injured French race driver Philippe Boutron.

French anti-terrorism prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the first explosion earlier this month. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said "there were hypotheses that it was a terrorist attack".

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However, Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry said on Jan. 8 that an initial investigation into the first blast had not raised any criminal suspicions. read more

RMC said France's DGSI secret service was also interested by what happened to Liparoti's truck, a support vehicle for her X-Raid race team.

On its website, RMC showed a video of the truck destroyed by fire, saying that its gas tank was found 50 metres (164 ft) away from the truck and had a hole in it.

The broadcaster said the driver heard an explosion and jumped out of the truck. No one was harmed.

France's anti-terrorism prosecutors declined to comment.

The French foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the RMC report, nor did the Saudi government.

TRUCK ON FIRE

A spokesperson for ASO, the French company that organises the Dakar rally, said in response to Reuters questions: "We were immediately informed by the X-Raid team of what had happened to Camelia Liparoti's assistance truck.

"The X-Raid team told us that it was most likely an electrical problem. We remained on this hypothesis, but if another origin were to appear today and that requires an investigation, we would obviously be ready to collaborate on it."

In an Instagram post dated Jan. 2, Liparoti showed a picture of the truck on fire.

"Yes, my pink truck caught fire in the night of 31st of December. Undetermined reasons. The driver got out intact, great news," Liparoti said.

"Suddenly, just before starting racing this Dakar, I lost everything. No clothes, no gear, no passport, no place to sleep or shower. Nothing left."

Franceinfo radio said last week that discussions between Paris and Saudi Arabia over putting French investigators on the ground had been "very difficult". read more

The Dakar rally, now in its 44th edition, started in 1978 as a race from Paris to the Senegalese capital but moved from Africa to South America for safety reasons in 2009. It has been held entirely in Saudi Arabia since 2020.

In March this year, Jeddah's Corniche race circuit will host a round of the motorsports world's most prestigious competition, Formula One.

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Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Additional reporting by Julien Pretot, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Ghaida Ghantous and Juliette Jabkhiro; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Alex Richardson

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