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Saturday, March 24, 2018
Hero French Officer SACRIFICED SELF to Save Hostages
Kathleen Joyce, Lucia I. Suarez Sang
A French police officer who offered himself up in a hostage swap Friday after an armed man reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” went on a rampage in southern France, has died, a report said early Saturday.
Details about the death of the officer, identified as Col. Arnaud Beltrame, were not immediately available.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb wrote in a tweet early Saturday that Beltrame had "died for his country."
Col. Arnaud Beltrame "died for his country," a French government official said. (Associated Press)
The officer had offered himself up unarmed to the 25-year-old attacker in exchange for a female hostage. He managed to surreptitiously leave his cellphone on so that police outside could hear what was going on inside the supermarket.
Officials said once they heard shots inside the market they decided to storm it, killing the gunman.
Police have not identified the suspect or a motive for the hostage situation. (Reuters)
Beltrame was grievously injured, and his death raised the toll from the attack to four.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest since Emmanuel Macron became president last May.
The French Interior Ministry said police and rescue operations are the priority at the moment.
Police said the suspect, identified as Redouane Lakdim, 26, carjacked a vehicle, shot at police and barricaded himself inside a Super U supermarket in Trebes before officers stormed in, fatally shooting him.
Macron, speaking after a meeting at the emergency center at the interior ministry, praised Beltrame for offering himself in the exchange.
“He saved lives,” said Macron, who said the rampage appeared to be a terrorist attack – the first to hit France since he became leader in May.
The Islamic State group said Lakdim, who was known to French police for petty crime and drug dealing, was one of its “soldiers.”
French counterterrorism prosecutor Francois Molins confirmed that Lakdim shouted "Allahu akbar" as he entered the supermarket and claimed to be a "soldier of the Islamic State." There were about 50 people inside the market when the Morocco-born suspect entered, the prosecutor said.
Molins added that an unidentified woman who was close to the suspect and shared a life with him was taken into custody on Friday.
The series of events appeared to begin when Lakdim hijacked a car near the medieval city of Carcassonne Friday morning, killing one person in the vehicle and injuring another.
Yves Lefebvre, secretary general of SGP Police-FO police union, said Lakdim then fired at least six shots at a group of police officers who were returning from a jog nearby. He said the officers were wearing athletic clothes with police insignias.
One officer was shot in a shoulder, but the injury was considered non-life-threatening.
Afterward, Lakdim went to the supermarket in Trebes, 60 miles southeast of Toulouse, where he opened fire and killed two people. He took an unknown number of hostages.
Lakdim reportedly yelled “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is Great” in Arabic, and said “he is ready to die for Syria,” local media reported.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the officer participating in the swap managed to leave his cellphone switched on after the exchange, establishing contact with officers outside the supermarket.
Through that phone, police heard gunshots inside the building and decided that elite forces had to storm the market, killing Lakdim, Collomb said. He said two other officers were wounded during the assault.
"He acted alone, there was no one else but him," Collomb said, speaking from Trebes.
During the standoff, Lakdim demanded the release of Salam Abdeslam, the lone survivor of an ISIS terror cell behind the deadly 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, officials said.
The interior minister said Lakdim was a petty criminal and small-time drug dealer who had been under police surveillance, but it was not clear to authorities that he was a committed radical.
"It was more of a petty criminal who at a certain moment decided to act," he said.
Counterterrorism investigators took over the probe into Friday's rampage. France has been on high alert since a string of Islamic extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016 left more than 200 people dead.
Fox News' Elizabeth Zwirz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.