A police officer who swapped himself for a hostage in a supermarket siege is fighting for his life in hospital, French President Emmanuel Macron says.
The gendarme, whom media named as Arnaud Beltrame, helped bring an end to a gunman’s shooting spree that killed three in southern France.
The gunman – 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim – said he was fighting on behalf of the Islamic State group.
He was shot dead by French police after mounting three separate attacks.
Sixteen people were injured, two seriously, in what Mr Macron called an act of “Islamist terrorism”.
The suspect is said to have been demanding the release of Salah Abdeslam, the most important surviving suspect in the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.
He was shot several times, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters. One person – believed to be Lakdim’s partner – has been arrested in connection with the shootings.
How did events unfold?
The violence began on Friday morning in Carcassonne, where Lakdim hijacked a car, killing one passenger – whose body was later found hidden in a bush – and injuring the driver.
He then shot and wounded a policeman who was jogging with colleagues.
Lakdim is then believed to have driven a few kilometres to the small town of Trèbes, where he charged into the Super-U supermarket, shouting, “I am a soldier of Daesh [Islamic State]!” and took hostages.
Carole, who was shopping at the supermarket, said people hid in a cold room.
“A man shouted and fired several times. I saw a cold room door, I asked people to come and take shelter,” she told France info radio.
“There were 10 of us, and we stayed an hour. There were more gunshots and we went out the emergency back door.”
Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters that police officers managed to get some people out, but that the gunman held one woman back as a human shield.
It was at this point, he said, that the 45-year-old gendarme volunteered to swap himself for her – and left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so police could monitor the situation.
When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed but the gendarme was seriously injured, and another officer was also hurt.
Mr Collomb hailed the “heroism and courage” of the gendarme, a lieutenant-colonel.
President Macron said he had “saved lives and honoured his colleagues and his country”.
What do we know about the suspect?
Redouane Lakdim, reportedly from a Moroccan background, was known to French intelligence services, said Mr Collomb.
“He was known for petty crimes,” including small-time drug-dealing, he said. “We had monitored him and thought there was no radicalisation,” he said.
Has very active on Salafist social networks and incarcerated in Carcassonne in 2016, reports Le Parisien. Salafism is a hardline offshoot of Sunni Islam.
He is also suspected of making a trip to Syria, though that is unconfirmed, Le Parisien adds.
Lakdim lived in an apartment in Carcassonne with his parents and several sisters. A neighbour saw him taking one of his sisters to school on Friday morning.
The family’s apartment was raided by police on Friday afternoon.
What has the reaction been?
In a statement released online, Islamic State militants claimed the attacker was “a soldier of the Islamic State” – a claim President Macron said the security services were studying.
France has been hit with several deadly jihadist attacks since 2015 and has been on high alert since. A state of emergency put in place after the 2015 attacks in Paris was lifted in October.
In February, Salah Abdeslam went on trial in Belgium over a shootout in Brussels that led to his capture months after the Paris attacks. He is not expected to go on trial in France until 2020 at the earliest.
Major terror attacks in France
- 1 Oct 2017 – Two women stabbed to death at Marseille railway station; attack claimed by IS
- 26 Jul 2016 – Two attackers slit priest’s throat at his church in Normandy; shot dead by police
- 14 Jul 2016 – Huge lorry mows down crowd on Nice beachfront, killing 86. IS claims attack by Tunisian-born driver, later shot dead by police
- 13 Jun 2016 – Police officer and his partner stabbed to death at home in Magnanville, west of Paris, by a jihadist declaring allegiance to IS – police later kill him
- 13 Nov 2015 – IS jihadists attack Paris, targeting the national stadium, cafes and Bataclan concert hall, leaving 130 dead
- 7-9 Jan 2015 – Two Islamist gunmen storm the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 17 people. Another Islamist militant kills a policewoman the next day and takes hostages at a Jewish supermarket in Paris. Four hostages are killed before police shoot the gunman dead. The other two gunmen are cornered and killed by police in a siege.
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