MOGADISHU // In a gruesome display that included a taunt of France's president, Somali militants posted photos yesterday of what appeared to be a dead French soldier.
The soldier is thought to have been killed during a botched military raid on Saturday to rescue a French intelligence officer held by the militant Al Shabab group since July 2009.
Three photos posted by an Al Shabab-run Twitter account show a white man wearing military fatigues and a blood-soaked shirt surrounded by three guns, ammunition clips and protective gear. A helmet lies between his legs.
In each of the photos a silver cross pendant hanging from the soldier's neck is visible. Al Shabab said in its posting: "A return of the crusades, but the cross could not save him from the sword." Al Shabab is an Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group that controls much of southern Somalia.
One posting also taunted France's president, saying: "Francois Hollande, was it worth it?"
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's defence minister, said yesterday that was likely the two commandos were killed during the raid. France believes the hostage, whose code-name was Denis Allex, was also killed, though Al Shabab says he is still alive.
Mr Le Drian appeared to predict the release of the pictures, saying several hours before the posting that France believed Al Shabab was preparing a "macabre and disgraceful" display of the dead soldiers' bodies.
In addition to the Twitter postings, Al Shabab released a longer statement that appeared to mix exaggerated boasts with fact. The group said that the operation resulted in the deaths of "several" French forces and injured "many more". The militants said the commander leading the operation was among those wounded, and that Al Shabab "paramedic teams" transferred him to a hospital where he died.
The group also said a decision had been reached concerning the fate of Allex. It said that decision would be announced in coming hours.
Transported by helicopters, the French commandos attacked Al Shabab positions early Saturday in an attempt to free Allex. Mr Le Drian said the government decided to stage the rescue a month ago, when Allex's location seemed to have settled down "in a spot accessible by the sea".
US military aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, President Barack Obama said on Sunday, but did not employ their weapons.
Fierce fighting broke out after the French troops landed. French officials said they counted 17 dead among the Islamists.
Al Shabab once controlled all of south-central Somali, including the capital, Mogadishu. African Union troops pushed Al Shabab out of the capital in 2011, but the militants still control wide swathes of rural southern Somalia.