A French police officer critically injured after he volunteered to swap places with several hostages being held by a terrorist gunman was hailed as a national hero across France on Saturday following his death from gunshot wounds he sustained in the attack.
Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame had been left fighting for his life Friday after being shot by Redouane Lakdim at the end of a three-hour siege inside a supermarket in Trebes near Carcassonne in southern France.
On Saturday, an official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation told the Associated Press that three homemade explosive devices were found in the supermarket. Also found were a 7.65 mm handgun and a hunting knife, according to the official.
Lakdim, who had declared his allegiance to Islamic State, killed three people and injured 16 in a shooting rampage Friday that culminated when he holed up in the store using a female hostage as a shield.
Beltrame, 44, a distinguished officer in the local gendarmerie, offered to take the hostages’ place. On entering the supermarket, he left his cellphone line open so police surrounding the store would know what was happening inside. French special forces stormed the building after hearing shots and killed Lakdim. Beltrame, who was gravely injured, was flown by helicopter to a hospital, where he died early Saturday.
Announcing Beltrame’s death shortly before 6 a.m. Saturday, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb paid tribute to the officer.
“We will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice. With a heavy heart, I send the support of the entire country to his family, friends and colleagues of the Gendarmerie of the Aude,” Collomb tweeted.
On Saturday, the hashtag #ArnaudBeltrame was trending on Twitter in France, and people turned out to lay flowers outside the police station in Carcassonne.
In the United States, President Trump tweeted his support from Mar-a-Lago, his resort in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the horrible attack in France yesterday, and we grieve the nation’s loss,” Trump said in his tweet. “We also condemn the violent actions of the attacker and anyone who would provide him support. We are with you @EmmanuelMacron!”
President Emmanuel Macron issued a statement saying he was “deeply moved” to learn that Beltrame had died of his injuries. He said Beltrame showed “exceptional courage and self-sacrifice” in offering himself as a hostage in exchange for others in the supermarket.
He added that the officer had also demonstrated the finest “military virtues” that merited the “respect and admiration of the entire nation.”
“Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame died serving the country to which he had already given so much. In giving his life to bring to an end the murderous actions of a jihadist terrorist, he has fallen a hero.”
Beltrame, a native of Brittany in western France, graduated from France’s elite Saint-Cyr military academy in 1999 with the highest commendation from his superiors.
During the supermarket siege, Lakdim, 25, of Moroccan origin, had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, who is in jail awaiting trial and alleged to be the only surviving member of the jihadist group that carried out a wave of shootings and bombings in Paris in November 2015, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds more.
Collomb told reporters Friday that Lakdim was known to police for petty crimes and drug offenses, but that French security services were unaware he had been radicalized and had no indication he would carry out a terrorist act.
Lakdim’s bloody day began in the medieval city of Carcassonne, popular with tourists, earlier Friday when he hijacked a car, shooting dead a passenger and seriously injuring the driver. He then opened fire on a group of Republican Security Companies riot police who were playing football near their barracks in Carcassonne, injuring one.
The gunman then drove to Trebes, where he stormed the Super-U supermarket, killing an employee and a customer.