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French Officer Dies After Hostage Trade03/24 10:29

   TREBES, France (AP) -- A French police officer who offered himself up to an 
Islamic extremist gunman in exchange for a hostage has died, raising the death 
toll in the attack in southern France to four. He was honored Saturday as a 
national hero of "exceptional courage and selflessness."

   Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was among the first officers to respond to the 
attack Friday on the supermarket in the southern French town of Trebes.

   Beltrame, who joined the elite police special forces in 2003 and served in 
Iraq in 2005, had organized a training session in the Aude region in December 
for just such a hostage situation. 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.

   But when he went inside the supermarket, he gave up his own weapon and 
volunteered himself in exchange for a female hostage.

   Unbeknownst to the Morocco-born hostage-taker, he left his cellphone on so 
police outside could hear what was happening in the store. They stormed the 
building when they heard gunshots, officials said. Beltrame was fatally wounded.

   In addition to the four people killed by the gunman in his rampage Friday, 
the attacker was killed by police. Fifteen others were injured.

   "Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation to which he had already 
given so much," President Emmanuel Macron said. "In giving his life to end the 
deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero."

   French police and soldiers have been a prime target of attacks by 
extremists, with 10 killed in recent years, including Beltrame. Other victims 
include three soldiers killed near Toulouse in 2012, three police officers shot 
to death in 2015, a police couple killed in their home in 2016 and a police 
officer killed on Paris' Champs-Elysees in 2017.   Dozens of others have been 

   According to Macron's statement, Beltrame also served as a member of the 
presidential guard and in 2012 earned one of France's highest honors, the Order 
of Merit. He was married with no children.

   Cedric Beltrame told RTL radio Saturday that his brother died "a hero."

   "He was well aware he had almost no chance. He was very aware of what he was 
doing," Cedric Beltrame said.

   Beltrame's mother told RTL radio that, for her son, "to defend the homeland" 
was "his reason to live."

   "He would have said to me, 'I'm doing my job, Mom, nothing more,'" she said.

   People were placing flowers in front of the Gendarmerie headquarters in the 
French medieval city of Carcassone to pay tribute to Lt. Col. Beltrame. Flags 
at all gendarmeries were ordered to fly at half-staff.

   Macron says investigators will focus on establishing how the gunman, 
identified by prosecutors as Morocco-born Redouane Lakdim, 25, got his weapon 
and how he became radicalized.

   On Friday night, authorities searched a car and the apartment complex in 
central Carcassonne where Lakdim was believed to live. Two people were detained 
over alleged links with a terrorist enterprise, one woman close to Lakdim and a 
friend of his, a 17-year-old male, Paris prosecutor's office said.

   Lakdim was known to police for petty crime and drug dealing. But he was also 
under surveillance and since 2014 was on the so-called Fiche S list, a 
government register of individuals suspected of being radicalized but who have 
yet to perform acts of terrorism.

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

   The four-hour drama began at 10:13 a.m. when Lakdim hijacked a car near 
Carcassonne, killing one person in the car and wounding the other, the 
prosecutor said.

   Lakdim then fired six shots at police officers on their way back from 
jogging near Carcassonne, hitting one in the shoulder, said Yves Lefebvre of 
the SGP Police-FO police union.

   Lakdim then went to a Super U supermarket in nearby Trebes, 60 miles (100 
kilometers) southeast of Toulouse, shooting and killing two people in the 
market and taking hostages.  He shouted "Allahu akbar!" --- the Arabic phrase 
for God is great --- and said he was a "soldier of the Islamic State" as he 
entered the Super U, where about 50 people were inside, Molins said.

   Special police units converged on the scene while authorities blocked roads.

   "We heard an explosion --- well, several explosions," shopper Christian 
Guibbert told reporters. "I saw a man lying on the floor and another person, 
very agitated, who had a gun in one hand and a knife in the other."

   Guibbert said he put his wife, sister-in-law and other shoppers in the meat 
locker for safety.

   The manager of the supermarket, who would identify herself only by her first 
name, Samia, was in her office when she heard the shots.

   "Call the gendarmes," she told her employees. "There's a terrorist in the 

   She said she helped evacuate as many people as possible.

   "It was terrifying," Samia said.

   During the standoff, Lakdim requested the release of Salah Abdeslam, the 
sole surviving assailant of the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks in Paris that left 130 
people dead. The interior minister suggested, however, that Abdeslam's release 
wasn't a key motive for the attack.

   The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said the attacker was responding to the 
group's calls to target countries in the U.S.-led coalition carrying out 
airstrikes against IS militants in Syria and Iraq since 2014. France has been 
repeatedly targeted because of its participation.

   France has been on high alert since a series of extremist attacks in 2015 
and 2016 that killed more than 200 people.


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