A policeman who died after taking the place of a hostage during a terror attack at a French supermarket has been described as a “hero”.
Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame showed “exceptional self-sacrifice and courage” after voluntarily swapping himself for a female store worker during the siege, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
The 44-year-old died in hospital from his injuries after he was shot three times by radical Islamist Redouane Lakdim in Trebes, southwest France, on Friday.
The 25-year-old attacker was shot dead by police after Lt Col Beltrame left his mobile phone on so his colleagues could hear what was going on inside the supermarket.
Cedric, the officer’s brother, said he had given his life “for strangers” and knew he had “almost no chance” of surviving.
“He did not hesitate, one second,” Mr Beltrame told RTL radio.
“He did what needed to be done and thanks to him, many lives were saved and yes, I think the word hero is very appropriate.”
Lt Col Beltrame’s mother, who has not been named, said she was “not surprised” by her son’s actions.
“He has always been like that,” she said.
“It’s someone, since he was born, who gives everything for his homeland.”
Mr Macron said of Lt Col Beltrame: “In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “saddened” by the officer’s death, adding: “His sacrifice and courage will never be forgotten.”
Britain’s ambassador to France, Ed Llewellyn, also paid tribute, saying Lt Col Beltrame “gave his life to save the lives of others” and was “truly a hero”.
Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame, wounded after taking the place of a hostage in the attack yesterday at #Trèbes, gave his life to save the lives of others. Truly a hero. Our thoughts this morning with his family and his comrades. And our solidarity with France pic.twitter.com/Ly2xIl90h9
— Ed Llewellyn (@EdLlewellynFCO) March 24, 2018
Samia Menassi, the manager of the supermarket targeted in the attack, said her colleague who was swapped for Lt Col Beltrame during the siege was in a “catastrophic state”.
Lt Col Beltrame, who joined France’s elite police special forces in 2003 and served in Iraq in 2005, had reportedly organised a training session last December to prepare for hostage situations.
Mr Macron said investigators will focus on establishing how Morocco-born Lakdim obtained his weapon and how he became radicalised.
Lakdim was known to police for petty crimes and drug dealing and had been on a watch list from 2014, according to France’s prosecutor Francois Molins, but he was not believed to be preparing any terrorist acts.
Islamic State has claimed the attack was in response to its call to target Western enemies.
Lakdim hijacked a car in the city of Carcassonne – seriously wounding the driver and killing the passenger – before driving toward Trebes.
He shot at police officers before hiding in the supermarket, taking several people hostage.
During the resulting stand-off with police, Lakdim demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam – the only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that attacked Paris in 2015.
Lakdim killed two people before giving up most of the hostages, keeping one woman as a human shield, who Lt Col Beltrame traded places with.
Police have detained a 17-year-old boy, who was allegedly a friend of Lakdim, in connection with the terror attack.
Another woman who was also allegedly connected to the attacker was taken into custody on Friday.