From John Irish and Abdi Sheikh, Reuters:  A French intelligence officer held hostage in Somalia since 2009 was killed along with at least one other soldier during a botched rescue attempt by French troops on Friday night , the French Defence Ministry said on Saturday.

But the Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen insurgent group who were holding Denis Allex said in a statement that he was still alive and being held at a location far from the base where French military helicopters attacked overnight.

The al Qaeda-linked insurgents also said they were holding an injured French soldier. . . .

The French Defence Ministry said 17 Somali fighters were killed in the fighting, which came on the same day France carried out air strikes against al Qaeda linked rebels in Mali in west Africa.

"Faced with the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for three and half years and who were holding Denis Allex in inhumane conditions, an operation was planned and carried out," the ministry said.

"During the assault, violent combat took place. Denis Allex was killed by his captors and in trying to liberate their comrade, two soldiers lost their lives."

The government later told a news conference one soldier was killed and one was missing.

Allex was one of two French intelligence officers from the DGSE who were kidnapped by al Shabaab in Mogadishu in July 2009 but one, Marc Aubriere, escaped a month later.

From AP:  An al-Shabab official confirmed that fighting began after helicopters dropped off soldiers.

“Five helicopters attacked a house in the town. They dropped soldiers off the ground, so that they could reach their destination… but fighting has broken out,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The al-Shabab official said that some soldiers were killed, but the group held only one dead French soldier.

“We had Mujahideen fighters already deployed there who fought back the French soldiers. We killed some of their soldiers but only one dead soldier in a French military uniform is in our hands now,” he said.

From BBC:  The raid in east Africa came hours after French troops intervened in the west African state of Mali.

France was "engaged in a merciless fight against terrorism wherever it is found", Mr [French Defense Minister Jean-Yves] Le Drian said.

It seems likely that the operation was linked to the intervention in Mali, the BBC’s Hugh Schofield reports from Paris.

The French government knew well the intervention would have dangerous implications for the nine French hostages being held across northern Africa, our correspondent says.  (photo: Hurriyet Daily News)