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Thursday, January 29

France says it foiled Islamic militant plot

PARIS -- 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 Defense 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 take decisions which you have been able to read about in the press," a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Le Point, whose details the ministry declined to confirm or deny, said Defense 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 machineguns mounted on their all-terrain vehicles, had intended to kidnap the pair in Mali's southern Sokolo region on Jan. 10.

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

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