French commandos launched an attack overnight in an apparent bid to free a French hostage in southern Somalia, leaving several dead, an Islamist commander and residents said Saturday.
“Mujahedeen fighters defeated the so-called commandos of the French government who tried to rescue a hostage, and they (the commandos) left the bodies of several of their own at the site of the attack,” Sheikh Mohamed Abdallah, a local al-Shabaab military commander, told AFP.
Abdallah is the commander of Bulomarer, where the raid allegedly took place.
The French foreign ministry said it had no comment on the report.
“We don’t know exactly what happened because the attack took place at night, but this morning we saw several corpses including that of a white man,” said a Bulomarer resident, Idris Youssouf.
“Three civilians were also killed in the gunfight,” he told AFP.
A French secret agent named as Denis Allex was kidnapped in Somalia in July 2009 along with a colleague who was freed the following month.
Four military helicopters were used in the raid on a house in Shebab-controlled Bulomarer, some 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of the Somali capital Mogadishu, witnesses said.
The Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab lost their main strongholds in the south and centre of the country following an offensive launched in mid-2011 by an African Union force, but they still control some rural areas.
Allex is among nine French hostages in Africa of whom at least six are held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
He appeared in a video in June 2010 appealing to Paris to drop its support for the Somali government.
He last appeared in another video in October looking gaunt and calling on French President Francois Hollande to work for his release.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991. However, a new administration took office last year, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.
Over a million Somalis are displaced inside the country while over a million are refugees in neighbouring nations, according to UN figures.
The United Nations this month appealed for $1.3 billion to support 3.8 million people — about half the population of the war-torn country — it said are in need.
In 2011, famine in the country caused by extreme drought exacerbated by conflict claimed tens of thousands of lives and affected more than four million people, according to the United Nations.