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French policeman Arnaud Beltrame who died to save siege hostage honoured at service

By Lori Hinnant

The French police officer who swapped himself for 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 sangfroid in life, Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame has been hailed as a national hero after his death from wounds sustained in Friday's incident.

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

Thanks to his quick thinking, special police units heard gunshots inside the supermarket and stormed the building immediately, killing the attacker.

Yesterday, a special church service was held to honour the heroic police officer and three other people killed in the gun attack.

The bishop of the nearby medieval city of Carcassonne, Alain Planet, led the memorial Mass at the Saint-Etienne-de-Trebes church in the town of Trebes.

Residents have been laying flowers in front of the Trebes supermarket where the attacker seized hostages on Friday.

"Beyond his job, he gave his life for someone else, for a stranger," Mr Beltrame's 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."

President Emmanuel Macron, who has ordered a national memorial for Mr Beltrame, said: "Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation to which he had already given so much.

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

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

A highly experienced police officer, Mr Beltrame responded to Friday's attack 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, Mr Beltrame organised a counter-terrorism training session for just such a hostage situation, which was also centred on 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 on 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 the Islamic State and appeared like a last testament".

They also recovered a computer and a phone.

Inside the supermarket itself, investigators found three homemade explosive devices, a handgun and a hunting knife, the official added.

The weapons suggested an intent to do further damage.

Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump tweeted, "We are with you @EmmanuelMacron!" and he condemned "the violent actions of the attacker and anyone who would provide him support".

French police and soldiers have been a prime target of attacks by jihadi extremists, with 10 killed in recent years, including Mr Beltrame. Dozens of others have been wounded.

Mr 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.

Belfast Telegraph

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