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In France, Officer Slain After Swapping Places With Hostage Is Hailed as Hero

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Trèbes, about 60 miles southeast of Toulouse. It was the latest in a string of smaller-scale, individual terrorist acts to rattle a country on a high terrorist alert since attacks in Paris and Nice in 2015 and 2016.

In an interview with the French radio network RTL, Colonel Beltrame’s mother said that she knew it was her son inside the supermarket as soon as she heard that a lieutenant colonel had exchanged himself to free a hostage.

“I am not surprised that it was him,” she said. “He has always been like this.” His mother, who was not named, described the officer as someone whose reason for being was to defend others’ lives. “He would tell me, ‘I am doing my job, Mom, that’s all,’ ” she added.

The officer’s brother, Cédric Beltrame, told RTL that he thought his brother had known he had little chance to survive when he decided to go inside the market. “He was very aware of what he was doing; he didn’t hesitate for a second,” Mr. Beltrame said.

Photo

Radouane Lakdim Credit via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A double valedictorian who graduated at the top of his class from the prestigious military school Saint-Cyr in 1999 and from the gendarmerie school in 2001, Arnaud Beltrame joined the special forces unit of the gendarmerie, known as the GIGN, in 2003. He was deployed in Iraq in 2005, according to the president’s office, and later received military honors for his service there.

After he returned from Iraq, he joined the Republican Guard, which is part of the national gendarmerie and provides officers for the security of French institutions. He was a guard at the Élysée Palace between 2006 and 2010, and joined the gendarmerie unit in southwestern France in August.

Almost 250 people have died in terrorist attacks here in recent years. Colonel Beltrame is the 10th member of the nation’s security forces to be killed in a terrorist attack on French soil since 2012, as police and military officers have become regular targets of jihadists. In April 2017, Officer Xavier Jugelé, 37, was shot dead on the Champs-Élysées.

The Paris prosecutor François Molins said at a news conference on Friday night that the terrorist threat had not waned, calling it “the result of radicalized individuals who are on our national territory.”

The attack at Trèbes could increase pressure on the French government to take a more aggressive stand on the thousands of people on the security services’ terrorism watch lists.

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Mr. Macron has already shown signs that he will present a tougher face on terrorism than predecessors, recently promising to set up special “watertight” units in the country’s prisons for a burgeoning radicalized population.

More details of how the attack unfolded emerged on Saturday. Mr. Lakdim, a 25-year-old French citizen who was born in Morocco and lived in Carcassonne, hijacked a car Friday morning. He shot and wounded the driver and killed a passenger, Jean Mazières, who was a retired winemaker, according to the local news media. The gunman then shot at a group of police officers who were returning from a jog, wounding one.

After he left the hijacked car in the market’s parking lot, Mr. Lakdim stormed into the store around 11:15 a.m., according to the national gendarmerie. About 50 people were shopping for groceries, and the gunman killed two more people on the spot, the authorities said.

Some shoppers escaped through emergency exits at the back of the market, while others hid. Christian Guibbert, a retired police officer who was shopping with his wife and sister-in-law, told French media outlets that he heard gunshots and saw a “very agitated” man yell “God is great” in Arabic.

Mr. Guibbert said he locked his relatives and other shoppers in a meat locker and called the police.

The only police officer to enter the supermarket at first was Colonel Beltrame, when he decided to swap places with a hostage. He left his phone on a table with the line open, according to Mr. Collomb, the interior minister, so that colleagues outside could listen in.

Video

Deadly Attack at French Supermarket

A gunman in the town of Trèbes, in southwest France, killed three people and took hostages. He said he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State. He was killed by the police.

Photo by via Reuters. Watch in Times Video »

The officer spent about two hours with Mr. Lakdim inside the Super U supermarket, officials said.

After officers heard more gunshots through the phone, they rushed into the market and killed Mr. Lakdim. Colonel Beltrame was “seriously wounded” in the exchange of gunfire, Mr. Collomb said.

On Saturday, the president’s office asked the French people to honor the memory of the officer, who had fallen “as a hero.” The hashtag #ArnaudBeltrame was among the top trends on Twitter in France on Saturday, as social media users celebrated the officer’s memory. #TousGendarmes, or #AllGendarmes, was also trending.

Mourners placed flowers in front of the gendarmerie headquarters in the French medieval city of Carcassonne to pay tribute to the officer. Officials ordered flags at all gendarmeries to be flown at half-staff.

The police on Saturday arrested a 17-year-old friend of Mr. Lakdim’s overnight on charges of criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise. A woman, identified by Mr. Molins as Mr. Lakdim’s partner, was taken into custody Friday night on the same grounds.

In a coincidence, the local newspaper La Dépêche du Midi reported that last year, Colonel Beltrame led 60 police officers in a simulated exercise surrounding a mass killing at a supermarket.

Colonel Beltrame told La Dépêche du Midi in December, “We want to be close to the real conditions, so there is no pre-established scenario.”

A video shot at that time showed police officers armed with paintball guns surrounding an abandoned building and later holding a man on the ground.

Source: NYT > World

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