France believes hostage killed in Somalia rescue bid

Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:52am EST
 
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By John Irish and Abdi Sheikh

PARIS/MOGADISHU (Reuters) - France sent special forces into Somalia to rescue a secret agent but insurgents apparently killed their hostage during the raid along with a commando, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday.

The intelligence agency team flew into southern Somalia by helicopter under cover of darkness to try to free Denis Allex, held since 2009, by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, on the same day France launched air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali.

"Commandos broke into where Allex was being detained last night and immediately faced strong resistance," Le Drian told a news conference.

"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."

Sowing confusion, Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was still alive.

Paris has been concerned that various French hostages held in Africa would be at risk if it intervened militarily against the al Qaeda-allied fighters in Mali, but Le Drian said the Somalia raid was "totally unconnected" to the Mali operation.

The deaths in Somalia coincided with the killing of a pilot in air strikes in Mali, however, striking a double blow to the start of a campaign that represents President Francois Hollande's biggest foreign policy test since his May election.

A French commando died from wounds sustained in the Somali raid and a second was missing, Le Drian said.   Continued...