|In October, kidnapped French intelligence agent Denis Allex appeared in a video shot by his captors. In the video, Allex pleads for French President Francois Hollande to negotiate for his release.|
The death toll from France's failed bid to free one of its intelligence agents in Somalia is being questioned, with witnesses saying at least eight local civilians were also killed at the time of the raid.
"Four civilians, including three from one family, are among the dead. They were all killed outside Bulomarer, where the French commandos landed before entering the city," resident Adan Derow told AFP on Sunday.
"We don't know why those civilians were killed" outside Bulomarer, where the raid took place on Saturday, added another resident, Ali Moalim Hassan.* "Four other civilians were also caught in the crossfire and died in the town of Bulomarer" during a pitched battle between French commandos and Islamist fighters.
On Saturday, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said one French soldier died and another went missing during the raid, adding that 17 guerrillas were killed.
He said "all indications" point to the conclusion the hostage, a French intelligence agent with the alias of Denis Allex, had been killed by his captors belonging to the Shabab, a Somali Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda. But the Shabab denied Allex was dead and said they were holding the missing French commando. Le Drian said on Sunday French troops underestimated the Islamist rebels' strength when they launched the overnight operation.
It involved some 50 troops and at least five helicopters. Although the raid happened on Friday, the same day French troops launched air strikes on Islamist militants in Mali, in west Africa, the minister said the operations were not connected.
Allex is among nine French hostages in Africa of whom at least six are held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).* A French expert involved in several hostage negotiations said talks with the Somali Islamists had become impossible due to the huge ransom demanded and the marked opposition of the Americans to the payment of ransom.
"Denis Allex became a human shield and an operation had become indispensable," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A source close to the case, also speaking on condition of anonymity said the DGSE had been preparing a raid to free Allex for more than a year. It had "been cancelled at the last minute three or four times as we did not have a solid confirmation of his location", he added.
The Shabab statement said the French had carried away "several" of their dead. "The helicopters attacked a house ... upon the assumption that Denis Allex was being held at that location, but owing to a fatal intelligence blunder, the rescue mission turned disastrously wrong.
"The injured French soldier is now in the custody of the mujahedeen and Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle," it said.* Allex was kidnapped in Somalia on July 14, 2009 - Bastille Day - along with a colleague. A second hostage, named as Marc Aubriere, was free a month later, in what the French government said was an escape.