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MAURITANIA: Racing against Al Qaida

January 25, 2008 |  3:10 pm

Mauritanians were  bummed  when organizers canceled the famous Lisbon-Dakar Rally because of fears of a terrorist attack after militants killed four French tourists in December. Al Qaida of North Africa took the credit for the attack and warned that it would also target the annual off-road rally as an "infidel" event.

But organizers of another rambling desert car race went ahead this week, undaunted by the threat.

The Budapest-Bamako race, which begins in Central Europe and winds its way down into North and West Africa, today completed its Mauritania leg, apparently without a hitch.

The 5,475-mile multi-stage race, also called The Great African Run, draws amateur off-roading enthusiasts from around the world. It has no entry restrictions: as long as your car is street-legal, you're set to rumble. Though you have to have a motor vehicle to enter the contest, you don't even need one to complete it: you can hitch-hike across the finish line.

Hungary's English-language Budapest TImes is giving the race extensive coverage. The news website Maghrebia proudly noted that  contestants entered Mauritania on Jan. 20.

U.S. Marines have announced a plan to help train Mauritanian security forces in counter-terrorism since the attack on the tourists.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Video: An ad for a television travel program shows scenes from the Budapest-Bamako race, which went ahead this year despite an Al Qaida threat that canceled its more glamorous cousin.

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