PARIS • France is in mourning for a French security officer who died from gunshot wounds after voluntarily taking the place of a female hostage during a supermarket siege by an Islamist militant.
Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, who once served in Iraq, had been raced to hospital fighting for his life after being shot by the gunman during the siege at the Super U store in the south-western town of Trebes, near the Pyrenees mountains.
"He fell as a hero, giving up his life to halt the murderous outfit of a terrorist," President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement shortly before dawn yesterday.
Flags flew at half-mast at gendarmerie - a police force which is part of the French military - bases across France.
Ms Anne-Marie Bonnet was among the local residents who went to lay flowers at Lt-Col Beltrame's base in Carcassonne - just 7km away from Trebes - where a white rose hung at the door.
"We want to thank him for what he did," she said. "It was a heroic gesture and I'd rather we talk about him than the other one," she said of the attacker.
Friday's attacker was identified by the authorities as Radouane Lakdim, a 25-year-old Moroccan-born French national from Carcassonne.
His rampage began when he fired at a group of police joggers and also shot the occupants of a car he stole. By the time he was shot dead at the end of the supermarket siege, Lakdim had killed three people and injured 16 others .
Singapore condemns attack
Singapore condemns the terrorist attack in France, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday.
It added that there had been no reports of Singaporeans injured or directly affect by the incident.
"We stand in solidarity with the people and government of France, and wish the injured a swift recovery," the ministry said.
"Singaporeans in France are advised to heed the advice of the local authorities and keep in touch with their family and friends so that they know you are safe."
Those who require urgent consular assistance should contact the Singapore Embassy in Paris or the 24-hour MFA Duty Office at:
Singapore Embassy in Paris
Tel: +33 01 56 79 68 00 E-mail: email@example.com
MFA Duty Office (24 hours)
Tel: +65 6379 8800/8855 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lt-Col Beltrame's death takes the number killed to four.
He was part of a team of gendarmes who were among the first to arrive at the supermarket.
Most of the people in the store escaped after hiding in a cold storage room and then fleeing through an emergency exit.
He offered to trade places with a hostage the attacker was still holding, after which he took her place and left his mobile phone on a table, with the line open. When shots rang out, elite police stormed the building to kill the assailant.
Police sources said Lt-Col Beltrame was shot three times.
Police arrested two people after the attack - one of them a woman connected to Lakdim on Friday and a 17-year-old man said to be one of his friends overnight, judicial sources said.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Mr Christian Guibbert, a retired police officer, told reporters that he was shopping in the market with his wife and his sister-in-law when he heard gunshots and saw a "very agitated" man with a handgun and a knife, yelling "Allahu Akbar" and shooting into the ceiling.
"He was yelling threats at people, 'Everybody on the ground'," Mr Guibbert said. He hid his family and other customers in a meat locker and then called the police.
"That's when he saw me and ran after me," Mr Guibbert said, describing how he escaped through an emergency exit.
A butcher who works at the supermarket, named only as Jacky, was quoted by French media reports as saying he and his co-workers ushered some 30 customers to the carpark outside.
But one of his colleagues, fellow butcher Christian, had already been shot by the attacker.
A customer was also killed.
"It's sad to see that we are not spared (from terror attacks) anywhere," said Jacky, visibly shaken.
"We used to tell ourselves that such things happened only in the big cities. In small towns, they are traumatising."
More than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since 2015 by assailants who either pledged allegiance to ISIS or were inspired by the group.
By poignant coincidence, Lt-Col Beltrame - who was married with no children - had simulated a terrorist attack at a supermarket in December in a training exercise, in his role as deputy chief of the gendarmerie in the local Aude region.
He graduated in 1999 from France's top military college Saint-Cyr, where his superiors described him as someone who "fought until the end and never gave up", President Macron said.
He was one of just a handful of candidates chosen to join the gendarmerie's elite GIGN force in 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in 2005, where he won a Cross for Military Valour.
He joined the Republican Guard protecting the presidential palace after returning from Iraq, and also worked as an adviser to the Environment Ministry.
His brother Cedric Beltrame said he would have known all too well the risk he was taking.
"He certainly knew he didn't stand a chance," he said. "He gave his life for another."
France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb tweeted: "France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES