He said two people were killed and others captured by the soldiers.

Abdi Ahmed, another resident, said six helicopters flew over the village before two of them opened fire. "White" foreign soldiers in military uniforms then got out and left with two wounded men, he said.

Local reports said Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenya-born al-Shabab commander, was killed in the raid. Nabhan was wanted over a 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel on Kenya's coast that killed 15 people.

Al-Shabab confirmed to Al Jazeera that the attack had taken place but refused to give more details.

'No French operation'

The French military denied its troops had been involved in the raid.

"There was no French operation," said admiral Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for the armed forces' general staff.

He said the French forces present in the region were operating within the framework of the European Union anti-piracy force Atalante and that "they did not intervene over Somali territory".

Dahir Ahmed, a resident, said the helicopters took off from a nearby warship
flying a French flag.

In Washington, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, would not comment on the operation or on any potential US involvement.

Somalia's weak government has very limited resources and does not have helicopters or other modern equipment.

Barawe district, about 250km south of the capital, Mogadishu, is controlled by al-Shabab fighters.

The group, which is fighting against the Somali government, is believed to be holding a French agent who was kidnapped in July.