Islamic militancy

Arnaud Beltrame, the French police officer who died a hero in supermarket hostage ordeal

Arnaud Beltrame was the ninth member of France’s security forces to be killed in a jihadist attack since 2012

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 11:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 11:25am

The French police officer who swapped places with a female supermarket employee being held hostage had already received a lifetime of accolades by the time he walked unarmed into the store under attack by an extremist gunman.

Known for his courage and sang-froid, Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame was acclaimed by neighbours, colleagues and French authorities as a hero this weekend after his death from wounds on Saturday.

President Emmanuel Macron announced plans for a national ceremony to formally honour him.

After agreeing to the hostage swap, Beltrame surrendered his weapon – but kept his mobile phone on, allowing authorities outside the Super U market in the southern French town of Trebes to hear what was happening inside.

Thanks to Beltrame’s quick thinking, special police units heard gunshots inside the store Friday and stormed the building immediately, killing the attacker.

“Beyond his job, he gave his life for someone else, for a stranger,” his brother, Cedric, told RTL radio in France.

“He was well aware he had almost no chance. He was very aware of what he was doing … if we don’t describe him as a hero, I don’t know what you need to do to be a hero.”

Beltrame was married with no children. He and his wife were due to celebrate their civil marriage with a religious wedding this year.

“Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation to which he had already given so much,” Macron said.

“In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero.”

The date of the ceremony for Beltrame wasn’t immediately set.

The hostage whose life he saved, an employee named Julie, was in a “catastrophic state”, her manager said.

Beltrame’s entire career seemed to lead inexorably to the moment when he responded to the attack Friday in Trebes, a 15-minute drive from the gendarme unit he had led since last August.

He joined France’s elite police special forces in 2003 and served in Iraq in 2005. A former member of the presidential guard, he earned one of France’s highest honours, the Order of Merit, in 2012.

In December, Beltrame organised a counterterrorism training session for just such a hostage situation – down to the location in a supermarket. At the time, he armed his officers with paintball guns, according to the Depeche du Midi newspaper.

“We want to be as close to real conditions as possible,” he said then.

In addition to the four people killed by the gunman Friday, 15 others were injured.

Investigators searched the home of the attacker, Moroccan-born Redouane Lakdim, 25, and found what a judicial official said were notes “that alluded to Islamic State and appeared like a last testament.”

They also found a computer and a phone.

Inside the market itself, investigators found three home-made explosive devices, a handgun and a hunting knife, an official said.

Lakdim was known to police for petty crime and drug dealing. But since 2014, he was also on the Fiche S list, a government register of people suspected of being radicalised but who have yet to perform acts of terror.

Despite this, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said there was “no warning sign” that Lakdim would carry out an attack.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse