A policeman who swapped himself for a hostage held by a gunman during a deadly siege of a supermarket has died, the French Interior Minister confirmed.
French officials hailed the bravery of Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, who was shot by attacker Redouane Lakdim after making the swap for a female hostage.
President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation that Mr Beltrame had “saved lives”, and Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in a tweet that France would “never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice”.
“With a heavy heart, I offer the support of the whole country to his family, his relatives and his companions of the Gendarmerie.”
Lakdim had screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and shot at police before taking the hostages inside the Super U supermarket in the southern town of Trebes.
While inside the supermarket after making the swap, Mr Beltrame managed to secretly place his mobile phone, with an open line, on a table near himself and the assailant, Mr Collomb said.
“That way we were able to hear what was going on at a given moment,” he said.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman opened fire on the policeman, critically wounding him.
The sound of that shooting prompted commando units to storm the building, when they killed the gunman.
Witnesses said the attacker scurried through the aisles of the large Super U store. (Reuters: Regis Duvignau)
The gunman had earlier killed one person while stealing a car in the medieval city of Carcassonne, before seizing the supermarket, where he killed two others.
Witnesses said they hid inside a cold storage room when the attacker — wielding a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other — scurried through the aisles of the large Super U store.
Most escaped a while later through an emergency exit.
Policeman ‘in supermarket attack simulation last year’
In December, in an interview with the local Independent newspaper, Mr Beltrame said he had taken part in an attack simulation in Carcassonne that centred around a mass attack in a supermarket.
“A mass killing took place in a supermarket. This is the only information that was given to the police,” he was quoted by the newspaper as saying, describing the simulation scenario.
“We want to be closer to real conditions, so there is no pre-established scenario.”
His death brings the toll from the attack to five, including the attacker.