French officials say a military agent held hostage in Somalia since 2009 is believed to have been killed during an overnight raid by French troops trying to rescue him, although his captors say he is alive and well.
A VOA reporter in Paris says French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said two people on the French side were killed during the operation in Boulmarer, a town about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu.
In a Saturday briefing, he said all indications were that agent Denis Allex had been killed by his captors. Le Drian said a French soldier was also killed.
The defense ministry says one French soldier is missing from the operation, which also resulted in the deaths of 17 Somali fighters.
However, al-Shebab insurgents say Allex remains safe, far from the battle area after what the militants described as a botched rescue operation. The militant group also said it had captured an injured French soldier.
Residents in Boulmarer said they heard gunfire and explosions shortly after spotting helicopters in the air. They also report seeing a number of casualties after the clash, although the identities of the dead were not clear.
Allex was kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu in July 2009, along with a colleague who either escaped or was set free about a month later. The two were in Somalia to train government forces who were fighting Islamist militants.
Allex was last seen in a video released in October.