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French agent kidnapped in Somalia is free

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN (AP) – 13 minutes ago

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A French security agent kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia last month was a free man Wednesday and under protection at the presidential palace, officials said.

There were conflicting reports over whether the man escaped or was released and whether he had killed three of his captors. The fate of another French security agent kidnapped with him was not immediately clear.

Farhan Asanyo, a Somali military officer, told The Associated Press that the man came up to government soldiers early Wednesday, identified himself and said he had escaped after killing three of his captors.

But the French Foreign Ministry said “his liberation came about without violence, contrary to certain information provided locally.” The ministry statement made no mention of an escape, leaving open the possibility that there were negotiations to free him.

The agent is safe at the palace and “in a good mood,” said Abdulkadir Hussein Wehliye, the assistant information secretary of Somalia’s presidential palace. Wehliye said the agent had escaped his captors did not mention any killings.

The two French agents were abducted in July from a hotel in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, then split up between the rebel groups al-Shabab and its ally Hizbul-Islam.

The French agents were in the country to train Somali government forces, which are fighting Islamist militiamen. Militants had said the two would be tried under Islamic law for alleged spying and conspiracy against Islam.

Foreigners rarely travel to Somalia, which is among the most dangerous countries in the world. The country has not had a functioning government for 18 years since clan warlords overthrew a brutal dictator then unleashed their militias on each other.

Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise in recent years, with journalists and aid workers often targeted. Two foreign journalists — Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan — have been held for a year.

Somalia’s lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off its coast, making the Gulf of Aden one of the most dangerous waterways in the world.

Many fear the power vacuum in Somalia will provide a haven for terrorists, as the military and police force are weak and in disarray. Various Islamist groups have been fighting the U.N.-backed government since being chased from power 2 1/2 years ago. The situation is complicated by constant splintering and reforming of alliances and a web of clan loyalties.

Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, sees near-daily battles between government and insurgent forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.

The U.S. government — haunted by a deadly 1993 U.S. military assault in Mogadishu chronicled in “Black Hawk Down” — is working to lower the growing terrorist threat without sending in American troops. The Obama administration recently increased aid to Somalia by pouring resources into the weak government.


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