The body of a French commando missing after a failed, U.S.-assisted raid Friday to free a French intelligence agent held for three years by Al-Shabaab was displayed in gruesome Twitter images today.
The terrorist taunts come just as the Obama administration plans to hail its progress in Somalia this week in Washington with the first visit of the Horn of Africa country’s new leader.
Paris had warned that their serviceman was believed dead and that the al-Qaeda-linked terror group would be broadcasting the news in the social media format as loved by PR-evolved terrorists as teenagers.
“The commander was deserted by his comrades after a fierce firefight and subsequently captured by the Mujahideen,” Al-Shabaab said in a press release. “HSM paramedic teams arrived at the scene shortly after the firefight had ended and transferred him to a hospital at the base, but he succumbed to his injuries hours later.” The photos don’t show any dressing of wounds, and visible trauma to his face suggests he was beaten.
They claimed the slain Frenchman was leading the rescue operation. “The Mujahideen recovered several weapons and the soldier’s gear from the scene of battle and later also managed to retrieve valuable information from the soldier before his death. The body of the soldier is still within the custody of the Mujahideen.”
The terrorist organization followed by tweeting a series of three photos of the commando’s body, with taunting messages including “François Hollande, was it worth it?” and “A return of the crusades, but the cross could not save him from the sword.”
It appears as if those taking the photos pulled over his collar the silver cross pendant the commando was faithfully wearing on a chain around his neck.
For Washington, though, the U.S.-assisted raid nearly disappeared from thought in the hours after President Obama notified Congress of the military action Sunday evening in accordance with the War Powers Resolution.
“United States forces provided limited technical support to the French forces in that operation, but took no direct part in the assault on the compound where it was believed the French citizen was being held hostage,” Obama wrote.
“United States combat aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, if needed. These aircraft did not employ weapons during the operation. The U.S. forces that supported this operation left Somalia by approximately 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 11, 2013.”
In lieu of a Jay Carney daily press briefing today, Obama stepped out for a news conference dominated by the debt ceiling and gun control. Congressional reaction to the Somalia raid was muted to nonexistent. And the State Department tried to deflect questions to the Pentagon, which didn’t have a briefing today.
“The U.S. did provide some limited support to France in that hostage rescue effort,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today. “As you know, I think it was yesterday evening, the president submitted a letter to Congress under the War Powers resolution which is required 48 hours after any U.S. military action, which outlined the limited technical support that we provided to French forces in an effort to be helpful. So I don’t have anything further on the specifics of that.”
Nuland framed this week’s visit by the president of Somalia’s federal government, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as a milestone for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she’s shepherded Mogadishu “through the period of the transitional government getting to this permanent democratic structure.”
“So she’s very much looking forward to welcoming the permanent, now, government of Somalia and celebrating the progress that they’ve made,” she said.
The administration is planning a briefing for reporters, as well, before this week’s visits with Mohamud to tout four years of effort and accomplishments in Somalia.
Nuland responded to the grotesque Twitter display by Al-Shabaab — and whether it could be a boon for them — by saying the terror group is “already significantly weakened.”
“That’s evident by the increasing amounts of territory that the government is able to manage with some of the leaders in the tribal areas as well, and I think you’ll see that when Hassan Sheikh is here and has a chance to talk about what’s happening in his country,” she said. “Look, al-Shabaab is on its heels and it’s desperate to try to continue to maintain its influence, but it’s not going to be successful.”
Somalia held an emergency government meeting Sunday on the raid, in which eight civilians and 17 Al-Shabaab militants were reportedly killed in addition to two French commandos. The hostage, known by pseudonym Denis Allex, was believed to have been killed in the raid, according to the French, but Al-Shabaab claimed he was alive and in their hands for an ominous fate.
“Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen has also today reached a unanimous verdict on the fate of Dennis Alex after three and a half years in captivity,” the group said. “The details of that verdict and some background information of the events leading up to the failed rescue operation will be published in the coming hours Insha’allah.”
“This was a shocking incident by French military, unfortunately civilians lost their lives,” Somali Foreign Minister Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Aadan said.
Gaggling with the media en route to Lisbon, Portugal, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he’s “been in discussions with the minister of defense and will continue to have those discussions” about what else France may need from the U.S., particularly in its fight against al-Qaeda in Mali, but he wasn’t asked any questions about the raid.
“The effort there will be to provide, you know, some limited logistical support to them, to provide logistical support and intelligence support where we can to assist them in that effort,” Panetta said.
“There will be some areas of airlift where we will try to be able to assist them, as well.”