Wednesday 12 December 2018

French hero officer who swapped himself for hostage dies

Col Beltrame offered himself up unarmed to the 25-year-old attacker in exchange for a female hostage.

Arnaud Beltrame (Ouest France via AP)
Arnaud Beltrame (Ouest France via AP)

By Lori Hinnant, Associated Press

A French police officer who offered himself up to an Islamic extremist gunman in exchange for a hostage died of his injuries, raising the death toll in the attack to four.

Col Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was among the first officers to respond to the attack on the supermarket in the south of France on Friday.

Mr Beltrame, who first took his place among the elite police special forces in 2003 and served in Iraq in 2005, had organised a training session in the Aude region in December for just such a hostage situation.

At the time, he armed his officers with paintball guns, according to Depeche du Midi, the local newspaper.

“We want to be as close to real conditions as possible,” he said then.

But when he went inside the supermarket on Friday, he had given up his own weapon and volunteered himself in exchange for a female hostage.

Unknown to the Morocco-born captor, he left his mobile phone on so police outside could hear what was happening in the store.

They stormed the building when they heard gunshots, officials said. Mr Beltrame was fatally wounded.

His death raises the toll to four. The gunman was also killed, and 15 people were injured in the attack.

“Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation to which he had already given so much,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.

“In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero.”

According to the statement, Mr Beltrame joined the elite police special forces in 2003 and deployed to Iraq in 2005.

He served as a member of the presidential guard and in 2012 earned one of France’s highest honours, the Order of Merit. He was married with no children.

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A woman places flowers at the main gate of the Police headquarter in Carcassonne (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

People were placing flowers in front of the Gendarmerie headquarters in Carcassone to pay tribute to Col Beltrame.

Mr Macron has said investigators will focus on establishing how the gunman, identified by prosecutors as Morocco-born Redouane Lakdim, got his weapon and how he became radicalized.

On Friday night, authorities searched a car and the apartment complex in central Carcassonne where Lakdim was believed to live.

Two people were detained over alleged links with a terrorist enterprise, one woman close to Lakdim and one friend of his, a 17-year-old male, Paris prosecutor office said.

Lakdim was known to police for petty crime and drug dealing. But he was also under surveillance and since 2014 was on the so-called Fiche S list, a government register of individuals suspected of being radicalised but who have yet to perform acts of terrorism.

Despite this, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said there was “no warning sign” that Lakdim would carry out an attack.

Press Association

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