On 11 January 2013, the French military attempted a rescue operation in Bulo Marer, Somalia to free hostage Denis Allex from Al-Shabaab. The operation failed and Allex was executed in response.
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. The captors loaded the men into a truck and left the hotel, but a while later the truck broke down. While the truck was incapacitated, the captors were confronted by members of Hizbul Islam, a Somalia 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. 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 government compound in the city and, from there, was transported back to France. However, Aubrière's account has been disputed as being improbable and it has been suggested that his release was secured after the French government paid a ransom, which the government has denied.
US and French technical and Human intelligence teams, including a ISA team and U-28A surveillance flights out of Djibouti were immediately deployed in an exhaustive effort to locate the hostage. Somali assets recruited by the DGSE identified several locations of where the agent had been located, 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, news reached the DGSE that the hostage's health was deteriorating, President Hollande ordered The DGSE Division Action to prepare to carryout 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 Navy SEALs from Red squadron, DEVGRU; in addition to latest intelligence supplied by Somali agents, the US also provided surveillance assets, including 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.
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, that had been on an enforced news blackout for weeks. The Special Forces led an assault on an Al-Shabab position in Bulo Marer, Somalia, where Denis Allex was believed to held. A fierce firefight lasting 45 minutes ensued and in the process 17 Al-Shabaab fighters and a French captain were killed. The French Special Forces later abandoned the operation.
The French military believes that members of Al-Shabaab executed Allex during or soon after the operation. However, Al-Shabaab claimed that Allex was still alive and in its custody.
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. In addition to the military casualties, eight civilians were also reportedly killed during the operation, including a pregnant woman, with others being wounded.
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.
The following day, United States 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 no weapons were used during the raid.
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. This was confirmed to be the missing soldier in action and was later identified as Captain Patrice Rebout, a member of the Division Action arm (11e Choc) of the DGSE. Three days later, Al-Shabaab announced, also through Twitter, that Allex had been executed in response to the French operation.