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French agent kills captors, escapes in Somalia

A French security agent kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia has escaped, reportedly by killing three of his captors, Somali officials said Wednesday.
Image: A soldier stands guard outside the presedential palace
Africa union peace keepers from Uganda guard the presidential palace in Mogadishu on Wednesday. One of two French intelligence agents kidnapped by hardline Islamist rebels in Mogadishu last month has escaped, Somali and French authorities said, and it is believed that the agent is now staying at the palace.Mohamed Dahir / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A French security agent kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia last month said he escaped Wednesday while his captors slept, then walked five hours through one of the most dangerous cities in the world to safety at the country's presidential palace.

Marc Aubriere, who was seized along with another agent in July 14, denied reports that he killed any of his captors during his escape.

"The militants who were holding me treated me well, they were giving me nice food," he told The Associated Press before boarding a plane to leave Mogadishu. "I was not harmed. There is no one I have killed or injured while I was escaping."

He said he escaped at midnight when his guards "were tired and sleepy."

‘Luckily they missed me’
He told France's RFI radio that he was "using the starlight to guide me ... Mogadishu at night is deserted and all the men that you cross paths with are armed. I was fired upon, I ran and hid and luckily they missed me."

Aubriere and another agent were kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, then split up between the rebel groups al-Shabab and its ally Hizbul-Islam. The second hostage was still being held.

"I am very happy but I am worried about my friend who is still held by militants," Aubriere told AP, looking tired and being led by the shoulders by Somali security agents.

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.

Farhan Asanyo, a Somali military officer, had told the AP earlier Wednesday that the man came up to government soldiers early Wednesday, identified himself and said he had escaped after killing three of his captors. But French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said the security agent was freed without violence and without any ransom paid.

"This was without any violence, contrary to some information that came from Somalia," Chevallier told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "This came without any ransom paid by France."

Chevallier said Aubriere was already on his way back to France.

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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