Hostage in Somalia killed during French rescue attempt

As French aircraft and soldiers intervened in Mali, French special forces launched a failed raid on the other side of Africa to rescue an intelligence officer held captive for 3½ years in Somalia, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday.

The unsuccessful overnight rescue operation, in the southern Somali town of Bulomarer, was unrelated to President Francois Hollande’s decision Friday to intervene on the ground and in the air to shore up the crumbling Malian army against Islamic guerrilla groups that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months.

As French aircraft and soldiers intervened in Mali, French special forces launched a failed raid on the other side of Africa to rescue an intelligence officer held captive for 3½ years in Somalia, the Defense Ministry announced Saturday.

But it dramatized the dangers facing the French military as it takes on Islamic terrorist groups in the distant and often hostile reaches of northern Africa where they have taken root. The Mali-based Islamic extremists, for instance, hold a half-dozen other French hostages and threatened earlier to do them harm if Hollande carried out his threat to dispatch French soldiers to help restore Malian state authority.

The Somalia rescue operation was designed to liberate Denis Allex, the official identity of an agent of the French intelligence service, the General Directorate of External Security, or DGSE by its French initials. Allex and a colleague were abducted by Somali Islamists in July 2009 soon after the pair, posing as journalists, checked into a hotel in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

In fact, reports at the time said, they were assigned by the DGSE to train the close protection squad of Somalia’s beleaguered transitional government as part of a French military aid program. Allex’s colleague escaped his captors a month later but Allex remained in the Islamists’ hands in what the Defense Ministry described as “inhumane conditions.”

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference that “everything indicates” Allex was killed by his captors during a violent burst of combat as DGSE commandos assaulted his place of imprisonment at Bulomarer, an Islamist-controlled town about 70 miles south of Mogadishu.

During the fighting, one French soldier was killed and another went missing, Le Drian said. Seventeen members of a Somali chebab group were killed, the ministry said in a communique.

“The (French) victims’ families have been informed,” it added. “The Defense Ministry addresses them its most sincere condolences and joins in their grief.”

A Somali Islamist guerrilla group issued a statement after the clash claiming that Allex is still alive but will be “judged within two days” for his relation to the attack, suggesting he would be executed. A wounded French soldier is also in their hands, the chebab declared, apparently referring to the soldier reported missing by Le Drian.

“In the end, it will be the French citizens who will taste the inevitable bitter consequences of the irresponsible attitude of their government with regard to the hostages,” they added.

Defense officials did not explain why they chose to launch the raid at the same time as France began its military intervention in Mali. But French experts suggested the DGSE had obtained new information that enabled them to pinpoint Allex’s place of detention with a previously unavailable precision.

It was unclear what political fallout would flow from the failure in Somalia. Leaders from across France’s political spectrum had backed Hollande’s decision to intervene in Mali before the Somali misadventure became known.

Le Drian said “several hundred” French ground troops and an unspecified number of aircraft were involved so far in the Mali operations. A helicopter pilot became the first French casualty as gunship raids were carried out during the night against guerrillas along the line separating government- and Islamist-held territory

The unsuccessful overnight rescue operation, in the southern Somali town of Bulomarer, was unrelated to President Francois Hollande’s decision Friday to intervene on the ground and in the air to shore up the crumbling Malian army against Islamic guerrilla groups that have controlled the northern two-thirds of the country for more than seven months.

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Posted by on January 12, 2013. Filed under News in English, Warka Maanta. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.