Bulo Marer hostage rescue attempt

On 11 January 2013, the French military launched an unsuccessful operation in Bulo Marer, Lower Shabelle, Somalia to rescue French hostage Denis Allex from the militant Islamist organization al-Shabaab. Allex was executed in response, and two French commandos, at least 17 Islamist militants and at least eight civilians were killed in the firefight.

Bulo Marer hostage rescue attempt
Part of the Somali Civil War (2009–present)
Somalia states, regions, districts control (Oct 2012).png
Political situation in Somalia in October 2012
Date11 January 2013
Location01°37′47″N 44°31′29″E / 1.62972°N 44.52472°E / 1.62972; 44.52472
Result Rescue attempt failed


Supported by:
 United States
Commanders and leaders
France Cap. Patrice Rebout [1] Unknown
50 operators (DGSE Action Division)
5 helicopters
Casualties and losses
France 2 commandos killed[2]
Hostage executed
17–70+ militants killed
8 to several dozens of civilians killed


Denis Allex and Marc Aubrière were deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2009 by the French Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) to train soldiers from the Transitional Federal Government. On 14 July 2009, both men were kidnapped from the hotel at which they were staying by armed men impersonating police.[3] The captors loaded the men into a truck and left the hotel, but later the truck broke down. While the truck was incapacitated, the captors were confronted by members of Hizbul Islam, a Somali Islamist militia, who demanded custody of the hostages. The two men were then taken away by fighters from Hizbul Islam and later Allex was transferred to the allied militia, al-Shabaab.[3]

On 25 August 2009, according to his version of events, Aubrière, who was being held in Mogadishu, escaped from his captors in the middle of the night while they slept. He then walked for five hours to the Somali government compound in the city and, from there, was transported back to France.[3] However, Aubrière's account was disputed by many Somalis as being improbable and it was suggested by them that his release was secured after the French government paid a ransom; they said they did not.[4]

US and French technical and human intelligence teams, including a US Army Special Mission Unit specialized in signals intelligence, and U-28A surveillance flights from Djibouti were immediately deployed in an exhaustive effort to locate the hostage. Somali assets recruited by the DGSE identified several locations where the agent had been; the agent was constantly moved by the terrorists mainly because of the fighting between al-Shabaab and African Union troops. US and French satellites and unmanned reconnaissance flights monitored the hostage's location for several months as operators from DGSE Division Action unit planned the rescue mission.

In December 2012, when news reached the DGSE that the hostage's health was deteriorating, President François Hollande ordered the DGSE Division Action to prepare to carry out a previously opposed hostage rescue mission. The DGSE sent a 50-man Close Quarter Battle Group of the Division Action (known as CPIS) to Camp Lemonnier where they trained for the mission with a small team of United States Navy SEALs from Red squadron, DEVGRU. In addition to the latest intelligence from Somali agents, the US also provided surveillance assets, including a JSOC Predator UAV based at Camp Lemonnier and air cover from both AC-130 Spectres and an RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV during the mission itself.[5]


At around 2:00 a.m. local time on 11 January 2013, 50 French Special Forces from the DGSE's highly secretive direct-action unit called "Division Action" supported by EC-725 Caracal helicopters dispatched from the Mistral,[5][6][7] assaulted an al-Shabaab position in Bulo Marer, Somalia, where Denis Allex was believed to be held. A fierce firefight lasting 45 minutes ensued and in the process 17 al-Shabaab fighters and two French soldiers were killed.[8] The French Special Forces later abandoned the operation.[9][10]

The French military believes that members of al-Shabaab executed Allex during the operation. However, al-Shabaab claimed that Allex was still alive and in its custody.[9][11]

Additionally, the French military had reported that one soldier was missing; they were almost certain he was killed during the attack. Al-Shabaab claimed that it had captured the missing soldier, left lying wounded on the ground during the firefight, despite also releasing photographs of the dead soldier.[12] In addition to the military casualties, eight civilians were also reportedly killed during the operation, including a pregnant woman, with others being wounded.[13][14]

According to the French journalist Vincent Nouzille [fr], more than 70 Somali militiamen were killed and several dozen civilians were victims of a 'clean-up' carried out by French commandos to preserve the surprise effect of the operation.[15]


On 13 January 2013, the Somali Federal Government held a press conference, where it condemned the Bulo Marer operation as unilateral and carried out without the knowledge or consent of the Somali authorities. The officials also extended their condolences to all casualties.[16]

The following day, US President Barack Obama indicated in a War Powers Resolution letter to Congress that US Air Force warplanes had entered Somali airspace in limited support of the French rescue operation. However, he stated that they did not use weapons during the raid.[17]

On 14 January 2013, al-Shabaab posted on their Twitter account a picture of the body of a white man in military uniform, describing him as the "leader" of the failed French commando raid in Somalia. The body was surrounded by captured military gear.[18] This was confirmed to be the soldier missing in action. This soldier has yet to be identified.[19] Three days later, Al-Shabaab announced, also through Twitter, that Allex had been executed in response to the French operation.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Donov, Iassen (28 January 2013). "French Commando, Killed in Somalia, Identified". SOFREP. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  2. ^ Omar, Feisal (14 January 2013). "Second French commando dies of wounds: Somali rebels". Reuters. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Campbell, Matthew (31 August 2009). "French agent Marc Aubrière's amazing barefoot escape through Mogadishu". The Australian. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  4. ^ "Somalia hostage tells of escape". BBC News. 26 August 2009. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b Neville, Leigh, Special Forces in the War on Terror (General Military), Osprey Publishing, 2015 ISBN 978-1472807908, p.293-294
  6. ^ Le Mistral au coeur de la tentative de libération de Denis Allex en Somalie, Mer et Marine (in French)
  7. ^ EXCLUSIF. Somalie : le raid pour libérer Denis Allex a été conduit depuis le Mistral, Le Point (in French)
  8. ^ "French secret service hostage and soldiers killed in Somali rescue mission". TheGuardian.com. 12 January 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Soldiers killed in failed French Somalia raid". Agence France-Presse. 12 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013 – via Google News.
  10. ^ "Somali Witnesses To Failed Rescue Describe Mayhem". NPR. The Associated Press. 13 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  11. ^ "Hunt for missing soldier after failed hostage rescue". The Daily Telegraph. 12 January 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  12. ^ Nor, Omar and Laura Smith-Spark (12 January 2013). "France says soldier, hostage killed in Somalia rescue attempt". CNN. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  13. ^ "Somalia rebel group say they have executed French hostage". Al Arabiya. Agence France-Presse. 17 January 2013. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  14. ^ "French soldier killed and hostage feared dead in Somalia". BBC News. 12 January 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  15. ^ Nouzille, Vincent (2015). Les tueurs de la République : assassinats et opérations spéciales des services secrets. Paris: Fayard. ISBN 978-2-213-67176-5. OCLC 905100818.[page needed]
  16. ^ "Federal govt condemns France military operation in Somalia". Garowe Online. 13 January 2013. Archived from the original on 18 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  17. ^ "US admits role in French mission in Somalia". Al Jazeera. 14 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  18. ^ "Al-Shabaab veroordeelt Fransman ter dood". NU. 16 January 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  19. ^ "French Commando, Killed in Somalia, Identified". 30 January 2013.