French officials have hailed the bravery of a policeman who was severely injured after swapping himself for a hostage held by a gunman during a deadly siege of a supermarket.
“He saved lives. He is fighting for his life,” President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation.
Local outlets named the policeman as Arnaud Beltrame, and his identity was confirmed by a police official who was not authorised to be publicly identified.
While inside the supermarket, Mr Beltrame had placed his mobile phone, with an open line, on a table near himself and the assailant, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.
“That way we were able to hear what was going on at a given moment,” Mr Collomb said.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman had 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)
“I want to hail the courage of the lieutenant-colonel who took the hostage’s place and who is now seriously wounded,” Mr Collomb said.
The gunman had earlier killed one person while stealing a car in the medieval city of Carcassonne, before seizing the supermarket in the nearby town of Trebes, 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.”