Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab said on Monday that a French soldier wounded and captured during a failed hostage rescue raid has died.
France's military operation Saturday to free a French spy held hostage by the Shebab since July 2009 was a failure, with another French soldier killed and the fate of the hostage unclear.
The French defence ministry Monday expressed fears that the Somali Islamists would put on display the bodies of the French soldier and the hostage, who France believes was killed during the botched operation.
"All indications unfortunately lead us to believe that the Shebab are preparing to organise a disgraceful and macabre display" of the bodies, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
The operation by France's elite DGSE secret service was an attempt to rescue an intelligence agent with the alias Denis Allex, who had been held by the Somali militants for three and a half years.
Le Drian said Saturday that the raid 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 only that a French soldier was missing, but on Monday he said it now appeared that the soldier had died.
While announcing the soldier's death, the Shebab extremists have denied Le Drian's assertion that they had killed the hostage. They said that they would decide his fate this Monday and issued a stern warning to Paris.
Le Drian said Saturday that 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 Shebab.
Sources in Somalia said one of the reasons the raid failed was that the rebels had received advance warning.
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.