By Stefan J. Bos
French President Emmanuel Macron recalled in a statement that 44-year-old Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame was among the first officers to respond to an attack on a supermarket in the small town of Trebes in which several people died.
"Arnaud Beltrame," the president said, "died in the service of the nation to which he had already given so much." And Macron notes that "In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero."
The police officer went inside the supermarket on Friday, after had given up his weapon and volunteered himself in exchange for a female hostage.
Earlier, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim from the city of Carcassonne had attacked the supermarket, explained Paris prosecutor Francois Molins. The gunman was shouting "Allahu akbar!", Arabic phrase for Allah is great and claimed he was a "soldier of the Islamic State" group as he entered the Super U, where about 50 people were inside, the prosecutor said.
He said the gunman had been radicalized but added that the intelligence received in recent years did not show "a warning sign" that Lakdim would carry out an attack. The prosecutor's office also reported the arrest of two people over alleged links with a terrorist enterprise, including one woman close to Lakdim and one friend of his, a 17-year-old male.
Unbeknownst to the Morocco-born captor, police officer Beltrame left his mobile phone on so police outside could hear what was happening in the store.
They stormed the building when they heard gunshots and Beltrame was fatally wounded. Islamic State group later said the Islamic gunman was attacking the supermarket had been 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.
The death of the police officer raises the toll to four. The shooter is also dead, and 15 people received injuries in the attack, officials said.
Beltrame, who first took his place among 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.
His death came as France still remembers priest Jean Hamel, whose throat was slit by Islamist militants as he celebrated Mass in July 2016 in his parish church in Normandy.
Pope Francis ordered a preliminary sainthood investigation for the priest saying his unwavering faith should encourage others to show the same courage.