MOGADISHU - Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab said Monday a French soldier wounded and captured during a failed hostage rescue raid has died and published pictures of the purported commando chief.
"The French soldier who was part of the invasion to Somalia died (from) the injury he sustained," Shebab military spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab said by telephone. "Our medical staff attempted to help him but he was unlucky."
France's military operation Saturday to free a French spy held hostage by the Shebab since July 2009 was a failure, with another French soldier killed and the situation of the hostage unclear.
The Shebab, who claim the hostage is alive, said they would announce later Monday their decision regarding his fate, while France believes he was killed during the rescue attempt.
The Shebab have posted on their Twitter account two pictures they claim are of a French commando chief killed in the botched raid.
The French defence ministry earlier had expressed fears that the Somali Islamists would put on display the bodies of the missing French soldier and the hostage.
"All indications unfortunately lead us to believe that the Shebab are preparing to organise a disgraceful and macabre display" of the bodies, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
The gruesome image recalled the incident in 1993 when the bodies of US soldiers were dragged through the streets and mutilated in Mogadishu, after a battle between US forces and Somali militia fighters.
The Shebab have displayed the body of an alleged French commander in photographs. One depicts him dressed in a black button-up shirt and khaki trousers, lying face up on an orange surface next to presumably his combat gear. A small crucifix was seen around his neck.
"Francois Hollande... was it worth it?", read a caption addressed to France's president on a second photo in which the dead man is seen with bullet magazines and an assortment of guns and other tools of war strewn around and on top of him.
The operation by France's elite DGSE secret service was an attempt to rescue an intelligence agent with the alias Denis Allex, who had been held by the Somali militants for three and a half years.
Le Drian said Saturday that the raid was sparked by the "intransigence of the terrorists who have refused to negotiate for three and a half years and were holding Denis Allex in inhuman conditions."
The minister said at the weekend that a French soldier was missing, but on Monday he said it now appeared that the soldier had died. He did not indicate that he was a commander.
At the same time the Shebab extremists have denied Le Drian's assertion that they had killed the hostage.
Le Drian said Saturday that 17 guerrillas were killed in the raid, while witnesses claimed eight civilians died during the operation at Bulomarer, a town south of Mogadishu still in the control of the Shebab.
Sources in Somalia said one of the reasons the raid failed was that the rebels had received advance warning, which senior Shebab commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim confirmed by telephone without giving further details.
Le Drian's explanation was that French troops had underestimated the Islamist rebels' strength when they launched the operation involving some 50 troops and at least five helicopters -- and some help from Washington.
President Barack Obama has acknowledged that US forces provided limited technical support for the operation, but said they had played no role in the fighting.
Denis Allex is the longest held French hostage overseas since French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held for more than six years by Colombian guerrillas until being rescued by Colombia's security forces in 2008.