French Special Forces attacked a Shabab-held town in Bulo Marer, just near Marka in Lower Shabelle region, in an attempt to free the French intelligence agent, Denis Allex, held by the Shabab since 2009. He was initially kidnapped by Hizbul Islam together with another agent who would be released weeks later by his captors after payment of millions of dollars in ransom money, according to Shabab, former Hizbul Islam, and government officials.
The kidnap operation was masterminded and led by a nephew of then-Interior minister in the TFG and Islamic Courts Union deputy leader, Sheikh Abdulqadir. Almost all the kidnappers were in the government security forces. Clearly, their loyalties lay elsewhere.
The interesting thing is that when the ICU joined the TFG, they not only took the most powerful positions in the security and intelligence services, but also most of the rank-and-file. This provided the groups that would decide to continue fighting with a vital entry point through which they could infiltrate double agents that would provide intelligence and facilitation of operations in government territory. That entry point is still open today.
The Shabab, being in character, forcibly took Denis from the Hizb soon after his capture. According to a source who had first-hand knowledge if the incident, the Shabab encircled the house in the Nationlink area near Bakara market where the hostages were being held and threatened to storm it if the Hizb did not give them one prisoner. The Hizb members who had kidnapped the Frenchmen were ready to fight to keep their hostages but Hassan Dahir is said to have personally intervened to appease the Shabab. Hizbul Islam was stronger than the Shabab at that time, by the way – it is Hassan Dahir’s indecisiveness and Shabab-appeasement that would eventually lead to the group’s demise in late 2010.
Understandably, the Hizb members who were keeping the prisoner, led by Ise Kamboni of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, decided to take their ransom payment without causing a fuss lest the Shabab threaten their only remaining hostage. That the French spy had escaped was a fictional story that is widely known as such here; it surprises me how gullible western media is by believing in the BS that he had escaped deep from insurgent territory at night and walked by himself to Villa Somalia.
The unexpected ransom-taking caused tensions within the insurgent community, and Ise Kamboni escaped with his loot; his associates were kidnapped by some of the original kidnappers who had not received their share – the story gets longer after that.
From the start, the Shabab were not interested solely in financial gain from their hostage, but had political demands – namely the stoppage of French military and intelligence assistance to the Somali government. The French would not budge and seemed to have increased assistance to the Somali government since 2009. This meant that eventually, the Shabab would either agree to take money – which they clearly haven’t – or kill their hostage as their demands are not met.
Back to Saturday’s disastrous French attempt to rescue Denis. For such an operation, one would need to have spies on the ground to verify the presence of the hostage. The Somali government’s spy agency would be the perfect one to provide agents to assist with such an operation. Given the fact that the Shabab have been infiltrating agents into the government intelligence apparatus for the past 4 years, it is likely that they may have misled the French and led them into a trap. How else does one explain attacking a completely wrong compound that would immediately be descended upon by dozens or perhaps hundreds of Shabab fighters heavily armed and with antiaircraft technicals according to reports from the city?
The French seem to have been caught by surprise and admitted that they had underestimated the firepower the Shabab would have in the little town. True, the town is usually not very protected – the fact that it was unusually heavily-militarised suggests that the Shabab had prior knowledge of the raid or may have led the French there themselves.
The French defence ministry’s claim to have killed 17 Shabab fighters seems to be far-fetched. When your forces are repelled at least twice in a couple of hours according to eyewitness reports – one in the initial raid and the second raid apparently to rescue the soldier they left behind – you are in no position to know the damages you caused. The only confirmed killed are at least 8 civilians reportedly killed in the homes by French firepower. Other stories allege a more disturbing, heavy-handed approach by the French that indiscriminately opened fire at anything that moved.
The only sure result of the operation seems to be the addition of a new DGSE hostage in the hands of the Shabab. The French defence ministry may have prematurely presumed that Denis was killed in the operation, but things don’t look good for him going forward.