At least eight civilians were killed during France's failed attempt to free a hostage in Somalia on Saturday (January 12th), AFP reported.
French secret intelligence service DGSE staged a night-time raid involving 50 troops and at least five helicopters on Bulomarer town to retrieve their intelligence officer, who goes by the alias Denis Allex and has been held by al-Shabaab since 2009.
The civilians killed include two families and a guard, witnesses said, adding that it was unclear how they died.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said one French soldier died and another went missing during the raid, and that 17 al-Shabaab fighters were killed. He said "all indications" are that Allex was also killed.
However, al-Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was still alive and warned they would decide on his fate within two days. They also claimed they had captured a wounded member of the French commando.
Le Drian said French troops underestimated the Islamist rebels' strength when they launched the overnight operation.
Senior al-Shabaab commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim said a main reason the operation failed was that al-Shabaab had been tipped off. "Fighters were already aware of the attack and we were ready to defend ourselves, thank God," he said, declining to offer details on how they received the information.
Le Drian on Sunday defended the decision to send in the elite troops. "It is good to talk, to look for a deal, but we cannot bow to unreasonable conditions, as was the case with al-Shabaab," he told French radio Europe 1.
"Al-Shabaab were asking for the release of I do not know how many jihadist prisoners around the world. It was strictly impossible and completely unrealistic," he said.