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Somali militants post photo of French soldier killed in raid to free kidnapped intel officer

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MOGADISHU, Somalia - In a gruesome display that included a taunt of France's president, Somali militants on Monday posted photos of what appeared to be a dead French soldier surrounded by weapons and gear.

Three photos posted by an al-Shabab-run Twitter account show a white man wearing military pants and a blood-soaked shirt surrounded by three guns, ammunition clips and protective gear. A helmet lies between his legs.

In each of the photos a silver cross pendant hanging from the soldier's neck is visible. Al-Shabab said in its posting: "A return of the crusades, but the cross could not save him from the sword." Al-Shabab is the al-Qaida-affiliated militant group that controls much of southern Somalia.

One posting also taunted France's president, saying: "Francois Hollande, was it worth it?"

The soldier was killed during a botched military raid early Saturday to rescue a French intelligence officer held by al-Shabab since July 2009.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that it was likely the two commandos were killed during the raid. France believes the hostage, whose code-name was Denis Allex, was also killed, though al-Shabab says he is still alive.

Le Drian appeared to predict the release of the pictures, saying several hours before the posting that France believed al-Shabab was preparing a "macabre and disgraceful" display of the dead soldiers' bodies. Photos of only one body had been displayed as of 6 p.m. Monday Somalia time (2 p.m. GMT, 9 a.m. EST).

In addition to the Twitter postings, al-Shabab released a longer statement that appeared to mix exaggerated boasts with fact. The group said that the operation resulted in the deaths of "several" French forces and injured "many more." The militants said the commander leading the operation was among those wounded, and that al-Shabab "paramedic teams" transferred him to a hospital where he died.

The group also said a decision had been reached concerning the fate of Allex. It said that decision would be announced in coming hours.

Transported by helicopters, the French commandos attacked the al-Shabab position early Saturday in an attempt to free Allex. Le Drian said the government decided to stage the rescue a month ago, when Allex's location seemed to have settled down "in a spot accessible by the sea." U.S. military aircraft briefly entered Somali airspace to support the rescue operation, President Barack Obama said Sunday, but did not employ their weapons.

Fierce fighting broke out after the French troops landed. French officials said they counted 17 dead among the Islamists.

Al-Shabab once controlled all of south-central Somali, including the capital, Mogadishu. African Union troops pushed al-Shabab out of the capital in 2011, but the militants still control wide swaths of rural southern Somalia.

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Straziuso reported from Johannesburg.

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