Somalia Hostage Raid: French Agent ‘Killed’

France has said one of its soldiers and an intelligence agent have been killed in a failed hostage rescue attempt in Somalia.

The agent, who is code-named Denis Allex and was captured by militants in 2009, died in the fighting with Islamistst, the French government said.

However, the Al Shabaab militia has said he is still alive.

Another special forces soldier is missing following the fighting, France’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed.

He said 17 Somali Islamists had been killed and that the operation was not linked to a separate military operation in Mali aimed at quashing a push by Islamist fighters.

Al Shabaab has reportedly said Mr Allex remained in their captivity and was being held far from the base where French helicopters attacked in the early hours of Saturday.

The al Qaeda-linked insurgents also said they were holding an injured French soldier.

Both sides described a fierce firefight during the raid on the Horn of Africa country that France said was carried out by the intelligence agency that Mr Allex worked for.

Sky’s Middle East Correspondent Sam Kiley said questions remained about whether the raid was planned because France feared repercussions from its operation in Mali.

He said: “It seems a long way away but ideologically – and, according to some intelligence agencies, physically – the Shabaab have been linked into a network of radical Islamist groups (in countries including Mali).

“There may have been some sense among French decision-makers that because they were getting involved in Mali, they ought to trigger this operation.”

However, Kiley said it was more likely that France had received local intelligence in Somalia that there was a threat to the hostage.

The French government said: “Faced with the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for three-and-a-half years and who were holding Denis Allex in inhumane conditions, an operation was planned and carried out.”

Authorities in Bula Marer, a town about 120km (75 miles) south of Mogadishu, said helicopters attacked at around 2am local time.

France said Mr Allex was kidnapped – along with another agent who later escaped – when he was carrying out an official aid mission with the Somalian government.

France has previously said the two men were in the Somali capital to train local forces.

After his abduction Al Shabaab issued a series of demands, which included an end to French support for the Somali government and the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers, whose 17,600-strong troops are helping battle the rebels.

A video of Mr Allex pleading with French President Francois Hollande to negotiate his release appeared on a website in October.