Monday, January 14, 2013
A second French soldier has died from gunshot wounds after an attempt to rescue a French agent failed at the weekend, Somalia's al Shabaab rebel group said on Monday.
The al Qaeda-linked militants put up fierce resistance when French forces went into southern Somalia by helicopter under the cover of darkness on Saturday to try to free Denis Allex, held hostage since 2009.
The outcome of the mission was unclear. French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday the operation had failed despite the "sacrifice" of two soldiers and "no doubt the assassination of our hostage."
However, earlier that day France's defense ministry said one of the two Frenchmen was missing in action, stoking speculation that the soldier had been captured alive.
A ministry source said on Monday the government believed both commandos were dead, but it did not have the bodies.
"The second commando died from his bullet wounds. We shall display the bodies of the two Frenchmen," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al Shabaab's military operations, told Reuters by telephone.
Musab said Allex was alive and his fate would be decided later.
Allex was one of two officers from France's DGCE intelligence agency kidnapped by al Shabaab three-and-a-half years ago in the capital Mogadishu. His colleague Marc Aubriere escaped a month later but Allex had been held ever since in what Paris called "inhumane conditions".
A video of a gaunt-looking Allex pleading with Hollande to negotiate his release and save his life appeared on a website in October used by Islamist militant groups around the world. Reuters could not verify its authenticity.
"Allex is alive and healthy," Musab said.
After Allex's abduction, al Shabaab issued a series of demands including an end to French support for the Somali government and a withdrawal of the 17,600-strong African peacekeeping force propping up the U.N.-backed administration.
Under pressure from the African troops and Somali government forces, the rebels have lost many of their urban strongholds, including Mogadishu, though they still wield influence in rural areas across southern and central Somalia.
Al Shabaab wants to impose their strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, across the Horn of Africa state.
The raid to free Allex coincided with the launch of French air strikes on al Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Mali in West Africa. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, however, that the two military operations were unconnected.