French soldier killed in failed Somalia hostage rescue
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A French soldier was killed and another was captured in a failed French commando raid on Saturday to rescue French hostage Denis Allex, who is also believed to have died in the operation, according to the French Defence Ministry.
The Islamist captors of a French military agent killed him during a French commando raid in Somalia, the French Defence Ministry said Saturday. One French soldier and 17 Islamists were also killed in the fighting.
Gen. Martin Klotz, a spokesman for the ministry, declined to provide details of the overnight operation aimed at rescuing secret service agent Denis Allex - the code-name for the man who was kidnapped by the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, the capital, in 2009.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Allex had been killed during the failed rescue attempt.
“It was an extremely dangerous mission,'' Le Drian said. “Everything indicates Denis Allex was killed.''
His Somali captors, however, claim they are holding Allex alive and said they had a new captive, a French commando wounded in the fighting.
"(Denis) Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle," al-Shabaab said in a news release. "As a response to this botched rescue operation by the French forces, (the Shabaab) assures the French people that it will give its final verdict regarding the fate of Denis Allex within two days."
Residents of the town of Bulomarer described a noisy scene of explosions and gunfire. An al-Shabaab official said that fighting began after helicopters dropped off French soldiers.
“Five helicopters attacked a house in the town. They dropped soldiers off the ground, so that they could reach their destination... but fighting has broken out,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The al-Shabaab official said that some soldiers were killed, but the group held only one dead French soldier.
“We had Mujahideen fighters already deployed there who fought back the French soldiers. We killed some of their soldiers but only one dead soldier in a French military uniform is in our hands now,” he said.
France acted Friday to help Mali against al-Qaeda-linked militants who hold more than half of that country and are encroaching further on government-held territory. The raid in Somalia could have been aimed at preventing al-Shabaab fighters from harming the French hostage in reprisal. Le Drian, however, said the operation in Somalia was unrelated to the French offensive in Mali.
The French attack was swift and loud, local residents said.
“We heard a series of explosions followed by gunfire just seconds after a helicopter flew over the town,” Mohamed Ali, a resident of Bulomarer, told The Associated Press by phone. “We don’t know exactly what happened but the place was an al-Shabaab base and checkpoint.”
Allex was kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu on July 14, 2009, with a colleague who later escaped. They were in Somalia to train government forces, which are fighting Islamist militiamen.
In October, French President François Hollande pledged to “use all means” to contact “anyone who can help free our hostages”.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
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