France mourns ‘hero’ officer who took place of hostage in attack

PARIS,  (Reuters) – France will pay a national tribute to a security officer who died from gunshot wounds after voluntarily taking the place of a female hostage during a supermarket siege by an Islamist militant, President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday.

Arnaud Beltrame, 44, a gendarme who once served in Iraq, had been raced to hospital fighting for his life after being shot by the gunman during the siege at the Super U store in the southwestern town of Trebes near the Pyrenees mountains.

His actions were described as heroic by politicians across the political spectrum.

“He fell as a hero, giving up his life to halt the murderous outfit of a jihadist terrorist,” Macron said in a statement shortly before dawn on Saturday.

Macron said France would organise a national tribute in Beltrame’s honour, the president’s office announced after he met with members of the government and officials involved in the attack investigation. It gave no further details.

The attacker was identified by authorities as Redouane Lakdim, a 25-year-old Moroccan-born French national from the city of Carcassonne, not far from Trebes, the tranquil town of about 5,000 people where he struck on Friday.

Lakdim was known to authorities for drug-dealing and other petty crimes, but had also been under surveillance by security services in 2016-2017 for links to the radical Salafist movement, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said on Friday.

The attacker’s rampage began when he shot the occupant of a car he stole and fired on a group of police joggers, wounding one. He then headed to a supermarket where he killed two people, an employee and a client, bringing Friday’s toll to three dead and 16 injured, according to a government readout.

Beltrame’s death took the number killed to four.

He was part of a team of gendarmes who were among the first to arrive at the supermarket scene. Most of the people in the shop escaped after hiding in a cold storage room and then fleeing through an emergency exit.

He offered to trade places with a hostage the attacker was still holding, whereafter he took her place and left his mobile phone on a table, line open. When shots rang out, elite police stormed the building to kill the assailant. Police sources said Beltrame was shot three times.

Politicians from the left and right called Beltrame a “hero” on Twitter, including opposition leader Laurent Wauquiez, far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen and Olivier Faure, set to become the next Socialist party head.

#ArnaudBeltrame was a trending topic on the social network where people expressed their respect and gratitude for the officer, and thoughts for his wife. Several cities, the National Assembly and police stations lowered their flags in his honour.

The Grand Mosque of Paris, the largest in the country, said the Muslim community joined in mourning for a man who had “fallen heroically under the bullets of the terrorist Redouane Lakdim in the exercise of his mission”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed Beltrame’s courage and sacrifice on Twitter, saying they would never be forgotten.

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