A French rally driver seriously injured in an explosion in Jeddah last week came out of a coma, while his team has claimed that Saudi Arabian authorities are trying to cover up the cause of the incident.
Philippe Boutron was seriously injured in the blast outside a hotel near Jeddah International Airport a week ago. The blast damaged a support vehicle he was driving for the Sodicars Racing team competing in the Dakar rally.
Boutron was airlifted back to France, where he was placed in a medically induced coma from which he emerged on Thursday, according to his son.
Saudi police previously announced that there was no evidence that the blast was criminal, but a protest official insisted that a “malicious act” had not been ruled out.
French counterterrorism investigators have opened a preliminary investigation into “multiple homicide attempts as part of a terrorist group.” The Saudi authorities have not commented on the announcement.
A Sodicars press spokesperson told French journalists: “We must tell the truth. It was an attack and not an accident, as the Saudi authorities are trying to maintain. There was a pump on the side rail of the vehicle, under the pedals. “
Richard Gonzalez, the director of Sodicars Racing, who was at the scene shortly after the explosion, said: “At first we thought something had hit the car, but there was a significant impact under the chassis of the car. There was a charge under the side of the car that exploded. I was there, I have the photos, I saw everything. It was a deliberate act, of that there is no doubt.
“When we saw the car, we thought something was wrong, but our priority was to get Philippe out and take him to the hospital. He had suffered serious injuries to his legs. He is a driver and customer but above all he has been a friend for 10 years. It’s awful.”
The Dakar rally, normally from Paris to the Senegalese capital, was first held in 1978. It has been held in Saudi Arabia since 2020 for safety reasons.
Last Thursday, 48 hours before the first stage of the race began, the Sodicars vehicle was “suddenly stopped by a sudden explosion” as it was leaving the hotel, rally organizers ASO (Amaury Sports Organization) said. Five members of the Sodicars rally team in the vehicle escaped, but the 61-year-old Boutron, who was driving the car, suffered serious leg injuries.
Boutron, a marketing executive and also president of the French Ligue 2 Orleans soccer team, was scheduled to participate in his ninth Dakar rally. After the explosion, he underwent several operations in Saudi Arabia before being transferred to France for emergency treatment at the Clamart military hospital near Paris.
Boutron’s son, Benoît, a journalist for the French radio station RMC Sport, told Radio Monte Carlo: “In fact, he is seriously injured in both legs. We will know more in 10 days, but we must be cautious at this stage. ”He denied reports that Boutron’s legs might have to be amputated.
“With this type of accident you have to go step by step. He’s out of the coma. We are lucky to be able to visit him every day, ”said Benoît.
ASO has said investigations are continuing and nothing has been ruled out, “including a malicious act.” He did not want to comment further.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised French citizens to exercise “maximum vigilance” in Saudi Arabia. A spokesman said the explosion had not been ruled out as a “criminal act”, adding: “There is still a terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism