Hero cop dies after trading places with hostage
THE gendarmerie officer who volunteered himself as a hostage in exchange for civilians during an Islamic State inspired terror attack in southern France has died.
The officer, identifed as Colonel Arnaud Baltrame, was fighting for life in hospital after the fatal attack in the southwest town of Trebes.
Beltrame, 45, was one of the first policemen to arrive where ISIS-linked terrorist Redouane Lakdim, 26, opened fire on shoppers and staff before taking them hostage.
Beltrame was also gunned down during the attack, after he had offered to swap places with a female hostage.
"He volunteered to take the place of the other hostages and has been very seriously wounded," President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address.
"He saved lives and did honour to his corps and his country," Macron added after a meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and security officials.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb confirmed his death, saying: "Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame has passed away. He died for his country. France will never forget his heroism," the minister wrote on his Twitter account.
Collomb praised Beltrame for his "courage" and "act of heroism".
"They managed to get some of the people out," he said.
Lakdim kept one female hostage to use as a human shield. Beltrame then offered to take her place.
He knew what he was getting into when he arrived on the scene of the attack because he had been to a terror training scenario of a mass killing in a supermarket in nearby Carcassonne just four months ago.
Beltrame also "left his telephone on the table", to allow police to hear what was going on inisde the store, Collomb said.
"When we heard shots the GIGN (France's elite police force) intervened," Collomb said, adding that the policeman was "seriously injured".
The public prosecutor of Paris François Molins also spoke of Beltrame's heroic act.
"I wish to underline the heroism of the lieutenant-colonel who, at the risk of his life, made the choice to take the place of the hostages," he said.
Now four people have died and 16 were injured after Ladkim stormed the Super U supermarket Trebes, near the city of Carcasonne at about 11am on Friday local time (9pm AEDT).
A claim of responsibility by the Islamic State extremist group was "currently being analysed", he said.
"I invite all our fellow-citizens to be conscious of the gravity of the terrorist threat, but also of the strength and resistance that our people has displayed every time it has been attacked," he concluded.
Lakdi, reportedly started his rampage by hijacking a car and shooting its passenger in the head.
Yves Lefebvre, secretary general of the SGP Police-FO union, said the suspect then fired six shots at police officers who were on their way back from jogging near the city of Carcassonne.
One police officer was injured in the shoulder but is not in life-threatening condition, Mr Lefebvre said.
Collomb said Lakdim was a small-time drug dealer.
"He was known by the police for petty crimes, we had monitored him and did not think he had been radicalised," Collomb said after arriving at the scene of the hostage-taking in the town of Trebes, near Carcassonne.
"He was already under surveillance when he suddenly decided to act."
Security sources had said the gunman was believed to be a Moroccan who was on a watch list of suspected Islamic extremists, but Collomb did not confirm his nationality.
BFM reported that he demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, one of the alleged masterminds of the Paris terror attacks in 2015 which killed 130 people.
Lakdim reportedly killed a butcher and a shopper while terrified customers either fled from the store or hid in a cool room.
Macron confirmed authorities believed the incident was a terror attack. "Everything leads us to believe it is a terror attack," he said.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also said all information suggests that the shooting inside the supermarket and the earlier shooting of a police officer "seems to be a terrorist act".
"All the information we have as I speak lead us to think that this would be a terrorist act," Mr Philippe said.
"The person who carried out the attack in Trebes in southern France is a soldier of the Islamic State and he carried out the operation in response to a call to target states" of the anti-IS international coalition, the Amaq agency said in a statement on social messenging app Telegram.
Trebes Mayor Eric Ménassi had earlier told another TV network, LCI, that the man had been screaming "Allahu Akbar, (God is greatest) I'll kill you all".
AFP reported a French security source had told them most employees and customers at the supermarket had managed to flee to safety.
France has suffered several serious terror attacks in the past three years and the state of emergency declared after the November 205 attacks on cafes and the Bataclan theatre in Paris was only lifted in November.