DakarWorld Rally-Raid Championship

Jonathan Savel, 1987–2024

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Credit: Rally Zone

Jonathan Savel, a police officer on the path to making his Dakar Rally début in 2025, was shot and killed during a raid in Lodelinsart that went awry on Monday morning. He was 36 years old.

Savel was a member of the Federal Police Special Units (DSU), Belgium’s tactical police, since 2016 after joining the force four years prior. According to Charleroi prosecutor Vincent Fiasse, search warrants were issued for a suspect allegedly involved in criminal conspiracy for trafficking drugs, cars, and weapons. At 6:30 AM on Monday, Savel and his POSA (“Protection, Observation, Support, and Arrest”) team arrived at the suspect’s house where they encountered and began speaking with a woman.

Moments later, they were ambushed by someone hiding behind a door who, per Fiasse, “fired several times” and “almost emptied his magazine on the officers.” Savel and two of his peers were hit, forcing the unit to call in reinforcements while they evacuated the trio. The assailant died in the ensuing shootout.

One of the wounded officers avoided life-threatening injuries, while another is in critical condition. Savel was pronounced dead in hospital; he was the first DSU agent to die in the line of duty since Pierre Goblet was killed in an accident in 1999.

“It is a dark day for the Belgian police, the Federal Police, and especially for our special units,” said Federal Police Commissioner-General Eric Snoeck at a press conference later that day. “This morning, like every day, dozens of colleagues, dozens of officers got up early, left their families to do their duty. They left their families with the intention, like every day, of doing their job properly in the service of the law but more broadly in the service of the people.

“Our special units, like the entire Federal Police, are professionals. They do everything to avoid accidents. Still, this was not enough to avoid an incident that is unprecedented in the recent history of the Federal Police. Today, one of us will not return home. Another is fighting for his life, and a third is suffering from serious injuries. Our thoughts are with his family, his colleagues, and those present who were surely affected by this.”

The shooting occurred three weeks after Savel competed in the World Rally-Raid Championship‘s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. He finished twenty-third overall in Rally2 and fifth among Malle Moto riders competing without assistance from crews, with a best stage finish of twentieth on the fifth and final day.

Abu Dhabi was his second W2RC start after scoring a fifty-fourth in class at the 2023 Rallye du Maroc. Due to insufficient desert rally experience, his application to race the Dakar in 2024 was rejected and he turned his attention towards the 2025 edition by entering Morocco and the ADDC. Both races are on the Road to Dakar and award twelve points each, which are earned by reaching the finish; the more points a rider accumulates, the likelier they will be accepted by the Amaury Sport Organisation to compete at Dakar. Since Savel completed his two starts, he had twenty-four points in his portfolio that could have been further bolstered by finishing additional W2RC rounds.

Prior to the W2RC, Savel ran amateur rallies like the Hellas Rally Raid in Greece where he placed fifty-seventh in 2023. He also raced enduro in the Belgian Endurance-Cross series.

“My thoughts are with the family and loved ones of the police officer who died in Lodelinsart, and those who are between life and death,” wrote Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on social media. “The work of our law enforcement, serving the population, deserves respect. Targeting them is despicable and will never go unpunished.”

UPDATE (20 March): Article has been updated to include further information on Savel’s service courtesy of the Belgian Police Memorial. Updates on the ensuing investigation will be provided in another article if necessary.

Jonathan Savel: 15 July 1987 – 18 March 2024

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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