French commando killed in Somalia raid
MOGADISHU, Somalia — A raid to free a French intelligence agent held captive in Somalia for three years went horribly wrong, leaving 17 Islamists and at least one French commando dead in a mud-caked farming town deep in militant territory.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris that the hostage, codenamed Denis Allex, was believed to have died and a second soldier was missing.
But the Islamists denied claims that he was killed and said they had a new prisoner — a wounded French soldier.
French officials said the operation in Somalia was unrelated to the military intervention in Mali.
France is “engaged in a merciless fight against terrorism wherever it is found,” Le Drian said.
Allex was captured in Somalia on July 14, 2009 — Bastille Day — and last seen in a video released in October pleading for the French president to help him.
The French government said the decision for the rescue mission had been taken because there had been no progress in three years of attempted negotiations to secure his release.
Residents in the southern town of Bulo Marer, about 70 miles south of Mogadishu, described a noisy scene of explosions and gunfire during the raid. The attack was swift and loud, they said.
“We heard a series of explosions followed by gunfire just seconds after a helicopter flew over the town,” said Mohamed Ali. “The place was an al-Shabaab base and checkpoint.”