A raid to free a French intelligence agent held captive in Somalia for three years went horribly wrong, leaving 17 Islamists and at least one French commando dead in a mud-caked farming town deep in militant territory.
In the chaotic aftermath of the firefight, the hostage’s fate was unclear Saturday. The Islamists denied French claims that he was killed and said they had a new prisoner — a wounded French soldier.
The botched rescue in East Africa came the same day French airstrikes in the West African nation of Mali targeted resurgent rebel Islamists. French officials said the two operations were unrelated but stepped up domestic counter-terror measures to protect public places and transportation networks.
Confusion surrounded early reports of the failed rescue of the French agent, known by his code-name Denis Allex. He was captured in Somalia on July 14, 2009 — Bastille Day — and last was seen in a video released in October pleading for the French president to help him.
But it was clear that a dangerous raid the French defense minister said was planned with the utmost care had encountered serious problems from the moment the helicopters swooped in.
“This operation could not be achieved despite the sacrifice of two of our soldiers and doubtless the murder of our hostage,” French President Francois Hollande said in a grim nationwide broadcast. “But this operation confirms the determination of France not to give into blackmail by terrorists.”