French commandos on Saturday attacked a base of Islamist militants in Somalia in an attempt to rescue French hostage Denis Allex. The French defence ministry said he was killed in the attack but his Somali captors claim they are holding him alive.
French commandos on Saturday attacked a base of Islamist militants in Somalia in an attempt to rescue French hostage Denis Allex. The French defence ministry have said he was killed in the attack but his Somali captors claim they are holding him alive.
A number of other people were killed in the assault which took place in the town of Bulomarer.
The attack comes on the heels of French military intervention in Mali, another African country. The intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the case with the press, said the French commandos were trying to rescue a kidnapped military advisor who they were tipped off was being held there. A French security adviser was kidnapped by the militant Islamist group al-Shabab in Mogadishu, the capital, in 2009.
“We are aware of the deaths of several al-Shabaab fighters during the operation,” he said. “Helicopters dropped off soldiers to rescue the man. We don’t have confirmations that the man has been rescued.”
The office of Col. Thierry Burkhard, the French military’s main spokesman for overseas operations, said it had no information about any Somalia action.
An al-Shabab official confirmed that fighting began after helicopters dropped off soldiers.
“Five helicopters attacked a house in the town. They dropped soldiers off the ground, so that they could reach their destination… but fighting has broken out,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The al-Shabab official said that some soldiers were killed, but the group held only one dead French soldier.
“We had Mujahideen fighters already deployed there who fought back the French soldiers. We killed some of their soldiers but only one dead soldier in a French military uniform is in our hands now,” he said.
With France having acted Friday to help Mali against al-Qaida-linked militants who hold more than half of that country and are encroaching further on government-held territory, the raid in Somalia could have been aimed at preventing al-Shabab fighters from harming the French hostage in reprisal. The attack was swift and loud, local residents said.
“We heard a series of explosions followed by gunfire just seconds after a helicopter flew over the town,” Mohamed Ali, a resident of Bulomarer, told The Associated Press by phone. “We don’t know exactly what happened but the place was an al-Shabab base and checkpoint.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)