“Five helicopters attacked a house in the town. They dropped soldiers off on the ground so that they could reach their destination,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The French attack was swift and loud, residents said.
“We heard a series of explosions followed by gunfire just seconds after a helicopter flew over the town,” Mohamed Ali, a resident of Bulomarer, told The Associated Press by telephone. “We don't know exactly what happened, but the place was an al-Shabab base and checkpoint.”
An elder in the town, Hussein Yasin, said the French troops shot dead two residents who turned on flashlights after hearing movement. As the soldiers walked away, they encountered an al-Shabab checkpoint and the gunfire began.
As the Islamists retreated, the helicopters returned to retrieve the commandos, he said.
The al-Shabab official said some soldiers were killed, but the group held only one dead French soldier. Later, the Islamist group released a statement saying that Allex “remains safe and far from the location of the battle.” It said there would be a verdict in his case in two days.
The chief of staff of the French army, Edouard Guillaud, said France had exhausted any other way to free Allex.
“When you get to the point of launching an assault, it means the other options had failed,” Guillaud said.
Allex was kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, on July 14, 2009 with a colleague who later escaped. They were in Somalia to train government forces, which are fighting Islamist militiamen.
In October, Hollande pledged to “use all means” to contact “anyone who can help free our hostages.”
In 2009, a Frenchman held hostage by pirates off the Somali coast was killed in the crossfire during a commando rescue on his captive sailboat. The man's family was rescued.
And in 2011, two French hostages kidnapped in Niger were killed by their captors as French troops closed in for a rescue.