Reports from Somalia suggest French commandos have mounted an operation against a militant base in a bid to free a French hostage.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Witnesses in Bulo Marer said they had heard a helicopter above the southern town before explosions and gunfire.
Al-Shabab militants are believed to be holding a French person hostage.
An al-Shabab spokesman told AFP news agency "several" French soldiers had been killed, in a claim which could not be confirmed independently.
The reported operation in eastern Africa came hours after France announced the start of a military intervention in the west African state of Mali, to support the government there against Islamist militants.
It was not immediately clear if the two events were connected.
A Somali intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to AP news agency, said French commandos had attacked the base in an apparent bid to rescue a foreign hostage.
Mohamed Ali, a resident of Bulo Marer, described the events of Friday night by phone.
"We heard a series of explosions followed by gunfire just seconds after a helicopter flew over the town," he told AP.
"We don't know exactly what happened but the place was an al-Shabab base and checkpoint."