Fighters from the al-Shabab resistance group in Somalia. The US-backed government in Djibouti has announced that it will deploy 450 troops to AMISOM. The American military has a base in the country., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Jan 13, 2013, 05.35 PM IST
At least eight civilians were killed during France's failed attempt to free a hostage in Somalia, witnesses said Sunday, adding to prior reported death tolls.
They also said Saturday's operation failed because the Islamist fighters were warned of the French commandos' arrival, a report confirmed by a local Islamist commander.
"Four civilians, including three from one family, are among the dead. They were all killed outside Bulomarer, where the French commandos landed before entering the city," resident Adan Derow said by telephone.
The victims were a couple, their son and another man, other residents said.
"We don't know why those civilians were killed" outside Bulomarer, where the raid took place, added another resident, Ali Moalim Hassan.
"Four other civilians were also caught in the crossfire and died in the town of Bulomarer" during a pitched battle between French commandos and Islamist fighters.
The four included a woman, her child and a local market guard, according to residents.
On Saturday, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that one French soldier died and another went missing during the raid, adding that 17 guerrillas were killed.
He said "all indications" point to the conclusion that the hostage, a French intelligence agent with the alias of Denis Allex, had been killed by his captors belonging to the Shebab, a Somali Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaida.
But the Shebab denied that Allex was dead and said they were holding the missing French commando.
Le Drian said Sunday that French troops underestimated the Islamist rebels' strength when they launched the overnight operation, which involved some 50 troops and at least five helicopters.
Derow meanwhile told AFP that "people saw (the French commandos) disembark in the fields. The Shebab were alerted that the helicopters had landed and that they let out soldiers, and so they (the Islamists) were able to prepare".
Senior Shebab commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim confirmed to AFP by telephone that the "fighters were already aware of the attack and we were ready to defend ourselves, thank God". He didn't specify how they were alerted.
Several residents expressed their anger over the raid.
"They killed innocent civilians and left without accomplishing anything. The people here are very disappointed in the French government on account of the civilian victims," said Bulomarer resident Moalim Ahmed Nur.
"These people were crazy," said another Somalian regarding the French commandos, an employee of a local humanitarian agency who wished to remain anonymous.
"We were told there were about 40 of them against more than 100 heavily armed Shebab fighters. Their mission was impossible and not very professional."