Africa

Second French soldier dies after Somalia raid - rebels

  • 14 January 2013
  • From the section Africa
Denis Allex in video from October 2012
Militants say hostage Denis Allex - his code name - is still alive and his fate is yet to be decided

Islamist militants in Somalia have said a second French soldier was killed during a failed hostage rescue attempt.

Al-Shabab published a photograph allegedly showing the commando, who they said had died of gunshot wounds.

The group also said it would soon reveal its decision about the fate of Dennis Allex, an intelligence agent who the soldiers tried to rescue on Friday.

Paris has said evidence suggests both both commandos and Mr Allex died during the operation near Mogadishu.

The raid in the town of Bulo Marer came hours after French troops had intervened in the west African state of Mali.

Paris says the two operations are not linked.

'Unanimous verdict'

A statement published on Twitter purportedly by al-Shabab's press office on Monday claimed that the second soldier to die had been the commander of the French rescue operation.

"The commander was deserted by his comrades after a fierce firefight and subsequently captured by the mujahideen," it said.

Al-Shabab paramedics "transferred him to a hospital at the base, but he succumbed to his injuries hours later," the statement added.

"The mujahideen recovered several weapons and the soldier's gear from the scene of battle and later also managed to retrieve valuable information from the soldier before his death. The body of the soldier is still within the custody of the mujahideen."

Later, the press office published a photograph allegedly showing the body of the "French commander". The dead man, who was not dressed in military uniform, was shown lying next to weapons, flak jackets and various other pieces of equipment.

A caption asked France's president: "Francois Hollande, was it worth it?"

The statement also said al-Shabab had "reached a unanimous verdict on the fate of Dennis Allex after three-and-a-half years in captivity".

It added: "The details of that verdict and some background information of the events leading up to the failed rescue operation will be published in the coming hours, God willing."

Al-Shabab has offered no proof that Mr Allex - a codename - is alive.

Earlier, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters: "I can confirm that everything leads us to believe that the hostage was killed and [a second] soldier was killed.

"All indications unfortunately lead us to believe that al-Shabab are preparing to organise a disgraceful and macabre display."

BBC map

'Unreasonable'

A battle erupted with al-Shabab militants after commandos swooped on Bulo Marer on Friday night and Saturday morning. France says 17 militants were killed in the fighting.

On Sunday, Mr Le Drian defended the raid in an interview on French radio.

"It's good to talk, to look for a deal, but we cannot bow to unreasonable conditions, as was the case with the Shabab.

"The Shabab were asking for the release of I don't know how many jihadist prisoners around the world. It was impossible and completely unrealistic," he said.

A senior al-Shabab commander, Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim, told the AFP news agency that it had been warned about the impending raid, but gave no more details.

Somali witnesses said a number of civilians had also been killed in the operation, which involved some 50 troops and at least five helicopters.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama acknowledged US forces had provided some technical support for the French operation.

He wrote in a letter to Congress: "United States combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed."

Mr Allex appeared in a video in June 2010, appealing to France to drop its support for the Somali government.

He last appeared in another video in October, looking gaunt and calling on President Hollande to work for his release.

Somalia has not had an effective central government for more than two decades.

France has a large military base in neighbouring Djibouti, including army, marine and air force units.

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