Monday 21 January 2019

Police hero hailed following deadly terror siege

Police at the scene in Trebes, France, where three people were shot dead. Photo: Reuters
Police at the scene in Trebes, France, where three people were shot dead. Photo: Reuters

Rory Mulholland

A French policeman who swapped himself for a hostage in a supermarket siege was shot by an Islamist gunman who killed three people yesterday.

Arnaud Beltrame, a lieutenant-colonel in the gendarmerie, was among officers at the scene after a man stormed a supermarket in the southwest town of Trebes, firing on shoppers and staff before taking a hostage.

Mr Beltrame was hit by several bullets, including one to the throat which was life-threatening, French media reported last night.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that Mr Beltrame was "fighting for his life" and hailed him as a hero.

French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters
French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters

The gunman was identified as Redouane Lakdim (26), a petty criminal of Moroccan origin who had claimed allegiance to the Isil terror group.

He opened fire on passengers in a car, killing one of them, and later shot dead two more people at the supermarket.

He eventually died in a police assault after a three-hour stand-off.

Witnesses said he shouted "Allahu akbar" as he burst into the Super U store on the outskirts of the picturesque medieval town of around 5,000 inhabitants.

French media said Lakdim had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the surviving member of the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, adding he was taking revenge for the bombing of Isil targets in Syria by coalition forces.

"He was known by the police for petty crimes," Gerard Collomb, the interior minister, told reporters at the scene. "We had monitored him and did not think he had been radicalised."

Lakdim was described by a neighbour as a "pleasant young man" who lived with his parents and sisters in a flat in Carcassonne, 8km west of Trebes, and who took the youngest children to school every day.

The incident came as France remained on high alert after a string of terrorist attacks since January 2015.

Lakdim embarked on his shooting spree in his home town, whose impressive medieval castle makes it a tourist hotspot, at 10am local time when he hijacked a car, shooting dead a passenger and seriously injuring its driver. He then fired at a group of police officers who were jogging near the castle and wounded one of them.

The attacker then drove off towards Trebes, where he dumped the hijacked vehicle in a Super U car park before storming into the supermarket and shooting dead a shop worker and a customer. Other customers and staff fled or hid in the ensuing panic, with one group of people taking refuge in the supermarket's cold store.

Christian Guibbert was one of them. He described how he heard gunshots when he arrived at the supermarket with his wife and sister-in-law, who hid in the cold room while he called the police on his mobile phone.

He said he saw the attacker holding a handgun and a knife, and he was screaming "Allahu akbar" and ordering people to lie on the ground.

"At one point he saw me and took after me with his knife," Guibbert told Reuters. "Then I looked back and he wasn't there any more and I slipped out of an emergency exit."

Police arrived shortly after the start of the siege, around 11am.

"They managed to get some of the people out," said Mr Collomb, but the attacker kept one woman hostage, intending to use her as a human shield.

It was then that Mr Beltrame, a 45-year-old police lieutenant-colonel, offered to take the woman's place and remained holed up with Lakdim while negotiations to end the stand-off continued between the killer and police.

Mr Beltrame "left his telephone on the table", switched on, to allow police surrounding the building to listen in, said Mr Collomb.

"When we heard shots, the GIGN (Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, an elite police force) intervened," the minister said.

A team of about a dozen officers entered the building and quickly shot dead the attacker.

"We got him, we got him," one of the elite officers shouted as he re-emerged from the building, according to an eyewitness account by a journalist from the local newspaper, 'La Depeche'.

Some time during the siege it appears Mr Beltrame was hit by a bullet. He remained in hospital in a critical condition last night.

"He saved lives and honoured his colleagues and his country," Mr Macron said of the officer.

Police later reported that an officer from the GIGN team was also injured during the operation to locate the gunman and immobilise him.


Terror timeline

August 9, 2017: A driver of a BMW slams the car into a group of soldiers in a Paris suburb, injuring six of them.

June 1, 2017: An Algerian student wielding a hammer attacks police officers in front of Notre Dame Cathedral. He had declared his allegiance to Isil.

April 20, 2017: A gunman shoots and kills a police officer on Paris’s Champs-Élysées in an attack claimed by Isil.

March 18, 2017: A man wounds a police officer with a revolver loaded with birdshot, then attacks soldiers at Paris’ Orly Airport while brandishing a revolver and shouting he wanted to kill and then die for Allah.

February 3, 2017: A machete-wielding Egyptian assailant shouting “Allahu akbar!” attacks French soldiers guarding the Louvre Museum in Paris, slightly injuring one of them.

July 26, 2016: An 85-year-old French priest is slain in Rouen when two Islamic extremists slit his throat as he celebrates Mass.

July 14, 2016: A truck driver targets Bastille Day revellers in Nice, killing 86.

November 13, 2015: Isil-linked extremists attack the Bataclan concert hall, France’s national sports stadium and other sites across Paris, killing 130 people.

January 7-9, 2015: Attacks on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and on a kosher grocery leave 17 victims dead. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility, saying the attack was in revenge for ‘Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

March 2012: A gunman claiming links to al-Qa’ida kills three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in Toulouse.

November 2, 2011: The offices of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in Paris are firebombed after it runs a cover featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.

Irish Independent

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