Dakar kidnap plot foiled - reports

Dakar kidnap plot foiled - reports
By Reuters

29/01/2004 at 20:13Updated

French secret agents foiled a bid by Islamic militants to kidnap contestants in the Paris-Dakar rally earlier this month as they raced across the Sahara desert state of Mali, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

A spokesman said the DGSE foreign intelligence service had played a key role in preventing what the Le Point weekly news magazine said on Thursday was a plot by a 100-strong gang to attack participants in the rally.

The 10th and 11th stages of the 11,000 km race were scrapped due to the security alert.

"French intelligence had information which led us, with our colleagues in Mali...to take decisions which you have been able to read about in the press," a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

Le Point, whose details the ministry declined to confirm or deny, said Defence Minister Michele Marie-Alliot discussed the threat during a trip to Mali's capital Bamako in December.

It said the French-backed operation had prevented leading French driver Stephane Peterhansel and Spanish motorcyclist Nani Roma from falling into the Islamists' hands.

Le Point said the group, heavily armed with machine guns mounted on their all-terrain vehicles, had intended to kidnap the pair in Mali's southern Sokolo region on January 10.

The magazine said the group had fled north once they realised the ambush scheme had been discovered.