PARIS -- A French secret service agent kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia was killed in an attempt to free him, the government here said Saturday.
The French Defense Ministry said Denis Allex was fatally shot by his Al Shabab captors in the early hours Saturday during a commando raid by French forces. At least one French soldier was killed, as well as 17 Islamic militants, the government said.
Allex, an agent for the Direction Generale de la Security Exterieure, had been held hostage since being snatched in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in July 2009. Officially, he was in Somalia to "help ... and advise the Somali government." He was taken from his hotel with one of his colleagues, who escaped a month later.
His captors accused him of spying for France.
Despite the government statement, a French news agency reported a claim from Al Shabab that Allex was still alive and being held by the group, which would "decide his fate" in the next few days.
At a news conference Saturday morning, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said that "everything leads us to believe" Allex has been killed, but he acknowledged that he could not be certain.
Le Drian's ministry defended the raid.
"Faced with the intransigence of the terrorists who have refused any negotiations for 3-1/2 years and who have kept Denis Allex in inhumane conditions, an operation was planned and put into action," the ministry said in a statement.
Helicopters attacked the Al Shabab hideout at 2 a.m. Saturday. Two civilians were killed in the crossfire, Ahmed Omar Mohamed, vice president of the region of Basse-Chabelle, told Reuters news service.
"Extremely violent combat ensued ... during which -- and I speak with caution -- everything leads us to believe that, sadly, Denis Allex was killed by his jailers. During this attempt to free their compatriot, a soldier lost his life from injuries and a soldier is reported missing," le Drian said.
ALSO:Jimmy Savile sex-abuse scandal stretches across decades, report says