* France believes hostage Allex killed, rebels say alive
* Intelligence officer Allex was captured in 2009
* France says rescue raid not linked to Mali operation
By Feisal Omar
MOGADISHU, Jan 14 A second French commando has
died from wounds suffered during a failed attempt to rescue a
French agent in Somalia held hostage by al Shabaab since 2009,
the al Qaeda-affiliated militant group said on Monday.
Al Shabaab said the French commando had died in their
custody and posted photos of what it said was his body on the
Internet, according to the SITE monitoring service.
The insurgent group also said it had made a decision on the
fate of hostage Denis Allex and that a message conveying its
verdict would be forthcoming. France says it believes Allex was
killed during the rescue operation.
The militants put up fierce resistance when French special
forces went into southern Somalia by helicopter under the cover
of darkness on Saturday to try to free Allex.
There was some confusion over the exact outcome of the
mission, with the French government saying at one point that one
commando had died and the other gone missing, and later saying
that both appeared to be dead.
"The second commando died from his bullet wounds. We shall
display the bodies of the two Frenchmen," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu
Musab, spokesman for al Shabaab's military operations, told
Reuters by telephone.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on Monday
it seemed that both commandos were killed in the raid and France
was braced for some kind of gory video message by al Shabaab.
"Everything leads us to think that the hostage was
assassinated and the other disappeared soldier has been killed,"
he said. A ministry source said earlier the government believed
both commandos were dead, but it did not have the bodies.
The militants later released photos on the Internet of the
body of a white male with a black shirt and military trousers
amid bulletproof jackets, several assault rifles and gun clips.
A necklace bearing a cross is also visible.
SITE said the militants had issued a press release with the
pictures and that the body belonged to the commander of the
operation. They also said the verdict on Allex was
Allex was one of two officers from France's DGSE foreign
intelligence service kidnapped by al Shabaab three-and-a-half
years ago in the capital Mogadishu. A colleague, Marc Aubriere,
escaped a month later but Allex had been held ever since in what
Paris called "inhumane conditions".
A video of a gaunt-looking Allex pleading with Hollande to
negotiate his release and save his life appeared on a website in
October used by Islamist militant groups around the world.
Reuters could not verify its authenticity.
"Allex is alive and healthy," Musab said.
After Allex's abduction, al Shabaab issued a series of
demands including an end to French support for the Somali
government and a withdrawal of the 17,600-strong African
peacekeeping force propping up the U.N.-backed administration.
Under pressure from the African troops and Somali government
forces, the rebels have lost many of their urban strongholds,
including Mogadishu, though they still wield influence in rural
areas across southern and central Somalia.
Al Shabaab wants to impose their strict version of sharia,
or Islamic law, across the Horn of Africa state.
The raid to free Allex coincided with the launch of French
air strikes on al Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Mali in West
Africa. Le Drian said over the weekend that the two military
operations were unconnected.
French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday the
Somalia operation had failed despite the "sacrifice" of two
soldiers and "no doubt the assassination of our hostage".
Earlier that day, the defence ministry said one of the two
Frenchmen was missing in action, stoking speculation that the
soldier had been captured alive.