France hostage rescue mission in Somalia fails spectacularly as Islamists kill 2 soldiers, but lose 17 men
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France believes hostage killed during rescue bid in Somalia
PARIS/MOGADISHU (Reuters): France sent commandos into Somalia to rescue a secret agent who had been held by insurgents since 2009, but said on Saturday it believed he had been killed by his captors along with a French soldier during the raid.
The intelligence agency's team flew into southern Somalia by helicopter under the cover of darkness to try to free Denis Allex from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, on the same day France launched air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the operations were not connected, but France has been concerned that other hostages held in Africa would be at risk if they intervened against the al Qaeda-allied fighters on the other side of the continent.
The Somalia raid, and sending troops to Mali where a pilot was killed in action on Friday, represents President Francois Hollande's biggest foreign policy tests since being elected in May.
France has eight nationals in Islamist hands in the Sahara after a string of kidnappings.
"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."
Al Shabaab, who had been holding Allex since July 2009, said in a statement he was still alive and being held at a location far from the base where French military helicopters attacked overnight.
"The injured French soldier is now in the custody of the mujahideen and Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle," it said.
"Several French soldiers were killed in the battle and many more were injured before they fled from the scene of battle, leaving behind some military paraphernalia and even one of their comrades on the ground."
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