Agence France Presse
Published — Saturday 12 January 2013
Last update 13 January 2013 4:56 pm
MOGADISHU: French commandos launched an attack overnight in an apparent bid to free a French hostage in southern Somalia, leaving several dead, the Al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab group and residents said on Saturday.
The French Defense Ministry confirmed the reported raid and said the target of the rescue attempt, Denis Allex, a French soldier held hostage in Somalia since 2009, was killed by his captors.
“During the assault, violent combat took place. Denis Allex was killed by his captors.”
But the al-Shabab said the hostage is still alive.
Two other French soldiers and 17 Somalian fighters were killed in the fighting, the French defense ministry said in a statement.
“Faced with the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for three and and half years and who were holding Denis Allex in inhumane conditions, an operation was planned and carried out,” it said.
In its own news release, the al-Shabab said: “(Denis) Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle. As a response to this botched rescue operation by the French forces, (the Shabab) assures the French people that it will give its final verdict regarding the fate of Denis Allex within two days.”
Sheikh Mohamed Abdallah, a local Shabab military commander, earlier told Agence France Presse that several French soldiers were killed in the fighting that ensued during the raid.
“Mujahedeen fighters defeated the so-called commandos of the French government who tried to rescue a hostage, and they (the commandos) left the bodies of several of their own at the site of the attack,” said Abdallah, who is the commander of Bulomarer where the raid took place.
Four military helicopters were used in the raid on a house in Shabab-controlled Bulomarer, some 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, witnesses said.
The Al-Qaeda linked Shabab lost their main strongholds in the south and center of the country following an offensive launched in mid-2011 by an African Union force, but they still control some rural areas.
Allex is among nine French hostages in Africa of whom at least six are held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
He appeared in a video in June 2010 appealing to Paris to drop its support for the Somali government.
He last appeared in another video in October looking gaunt and calling on French President Francois Hollande to work for his release.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991. However, a new administration took office last year, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.
Over a million Somalis are displaced inside the country while over a million are refugees in neighboring nations, according to UN figures.
The United Nations this month appealed for $1.3 billion to support 3.8 million people — about half the population of the war-torn country — it said are in need.
In 2011, famine in the country caused by extreme drought exacerbated by conflict claimed tens of thousands of lives and affected more than four million people, according to the United Nations.