An al Qaeda-linked terrorist group announced today that it planned to execute a French spy codenamed Denis Allex, who has been held captive in Somalia for years and who French authorities believe is already dead.
The Somalia-based group, al-Shabaab, said via Twitter that France "voluntarily signed Allex's death warrant" by attempting to launch a rescue operation for the intelligence agent over the weekend. That rescue failed and French authorities acknowledged that two French commandos were killed in the operation.
Top French officials, including President Francois Hollande, previously said that they believed Allex was executed by his captors during the failed raid. Now, they say, the terrorists are playing mind games.
"We suspect this is a media stunt by the Shabaab," Edouard Guillaud, chief of staff of the French armed forces, told French radio network Europe 1 early Wednesday. "We have had no proof of life since the night of the raid."
In its statement today, al-Shabaab asserted that Allex, who was kidnapped in July 2009, is alive and had been in another safe house that was not targeted by the French rescue force.
The terrorist group had announced on Monday that it had reached a "unanimous verdict on the fate" of the hostage, though it did not offer any proof of life at the time. The same day the group released three images of a man they said was one of the French commandos killed in the raid.
Today Hollande firmly stood by his decision to launch the rescue operation in remarks to the press.
"It is a message we send: France cannot accept that its citizen be held hostage," he said. "I also want to express France's position: it is by being firm, including by intervening as we are in Mali, that we defeat kidnappers."
In addition to the failed hostage rescue, the terrorist group said Allex's execution was to avenge what it called France's "persecution" of Muslims at home and around the world as well as its military involvement in Afghanistan and, more recently, in Mali.
Al-Shabaab claimed in its statement that it had tried to negotiate Allex's release in good faith in exchange for the release of Muslim prisoners over three and a half years but was met with what it described as "willfully uncooperative" French authorities. The group claimed the French government launched the botched rescue operation a week after ensuring the terrorist group that "a deal would be finalized 'very shortly.'" Al-Shabaab also claimed it had extracted "a wealth of information" from Allex on the "inner workings of the French intelligence apparatus."
The French Defense ministry had no comment on both claims telling ABC News it does not comment on press releases from such groups.
ABC News' Lee Ferran and Dana Hughes contributed to this report.
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