, NAIROBI, Jan 16 – Somali Islamists said Wednesday they have decided to execute the French intelligence officer they have held for more than three years and who was the object Saturday of a botched rescue bid.
The Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab in a statement said they have “reached a unanimous decision to execute the French intelligence officer, Denis Allex.” Paris has said the officer was most likely killed by his captors during the failed rescue attempt.
A senior Shabaab official confirmed to AFP on Wednesday that Allex “has been sentenced and this judgment will not be changed. As far as we are concerned this man should die.”
The Shabaab justified their decision by saying they wanted to avenge “the dozens of Muslim civilians senselessly killed by the French forces during the operation.”
The group also cited “France’s increasing persecution of Muslims around the world, its oppressive anti-Islam policies at home, French military operations in … Afghanistan and, most recently, in Mali.”
The Shabaab have not provided any proof that Allex, presumed to be a pseudonym, is still alive.
The operation to free Allex, held since July 2009, was a failure, with two other French soldiers killed. The French retrieved one of the two bodies. Pictures of the second dead soldier, presented by the Shabaab as the commander of the raid, have been posted on the Islamists’ Twitter account.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that the raid, by the elite DGSE secret service, was sparked by the “intransigence of the terrorists who have refused to negotiate for three and a half years and were holding Denis Allex in inhuman conditions.”
The minister said at the weekend that a French soldier was missing, but on Monday he said it now appeared that the soldier had died. He did not indicate that he was a commander.
Le Drian said 17 guerrillas were killed in the raid, while witnesses claimed eight civilians died during the operation at Bulomarer, a town south of Mogadishu still in the control of the Shabaab.
Sources in Somalia said one of the reasons the raid failed was that the rebels had received advance warning, which senior Shabaab commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim confirmed to AFP by telephone without giving further details.
Le Drian’s explanation was that French troops had underestimated the Islamist rebels’ strength when they launched the operation involving some 50 troops and at least five helicopters — and some help from Washington.
President Barack Obama has acknowledged that US forces provided limited technical support for the operation, but said they had played no role in the fighting.
Denis Allex is the longest held French hostage overseas since French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held for more than six years by Colombian guerrillas until being rescued by Colombia’s security forces in 2008.