Mission to rescue hostage fails

Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 00:00

A French commando team failed in an attempt to rescue a secret service agent in a hostage rescue mission in southern Somalia on Saturday.

President François Hollande said two French soldiers had died in the mission and that the hostage, a French intelligence officer, was “assassinated” by his Islamist captors despite their claims that he was still alive.

The agent, who used the name Denis Allex, was kidnapped by al-Shahaab in 2009. “Commandos broke into where Allex was being detained last night and immediately faced strong resistance,” French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference in Paris on Saturday.

“Intense combat took place, during which – and now I speak with caution – everything leads us to believe that Denis Allex was unfortunately killed by his captors.”

However, al-Shahaab said in a statement that Mr Allex was still alive and was being held far from the base which was attacked.

The defence ministry said 17 Somali fighters were killed in the mission, which was prompted by “the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for 3½ years”.

Mali intervention

The rescue attempt began just hours after France began its military intervention in Mali. Paris has been concerned that French hostages held in Africa would be at risk if it intervened militarily against the al-Qaeda-allied fighters in Mali, but Mr Le Drian said the Somalia raid was “totally unconnected” to the Mali operation.

Mr Allex was one of two officers from the DGSE, France’s overseas intelligence agency, kidnapped by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu on Bastille Day in July 2009. His colleague, Marc Aubrière, escaped a month later but Mr Allex had been held ever since in what Paris called “inhumane conditions”.

The French government said the agents had been working as security consultants to the transitional government in Somalia.

In a statement, al-Shahaab said the raid was carried out at about 2am by five French helicopters in the southern Somali town of Bula-Marer and that it lasted about 45 minutes. “Instead of rescuing them, such ill-advised operations only further imperil the lives of the hostages,” the statement said.