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TERRORISM

France mourns death of hero gendarme who took place of supermarket hostage

The French policeman who swapped himself for a hostage held by a jihadist gunmen has died of his wounds, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Saturday.

France mourns death of hero gendarme who took place of supermarket hostage

“Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame has passed away. He died for his country. France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice,” the minister wrote on his Twitter account.

Beltrame was shot and stabbed after swapping himself for a hostage in a rampage and siege President Emmanuel Macron branded “an Islamist terrorist attack”.

Macron led tributes to Beltrame, saying he had “died a hero” and deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”.

The national gendarmerie said its flags would fly at half-mast on Saturday in tribute to the slain officer, while a white rose hung on the door of his own base in Carcassonne.

He died of his wounds Saturday, becoming the gunman's fourth victim.

In a statement from the Elyséé presidential palace, Macron also praised the “exceptional courage” of Beltrame.

“The President of the Republic has learned with great sadness the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame during the night from injuries received in the exercise of his mission.
 
“By offering himself as a hostage to the terrorist entrenched in the Trèbes supermarket, Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame saved the life of a civil hostage, showing exceptional courage and exceptionality.
 
“At the heart of the action, Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame has shown exceptional coolness and illustrated the military virtues in a vivid manner, which deserves the respect and admiration of the entire nation.”
 
“Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation, to which he had already given so much. By giving his life to put an end to the murderous pursuit of a jihadist terrorist, he has fallen as a hero.
 
“The President of the Republic extends his most sincere condolences to his widow, his friends, and his brothers in arms. He calls every Frenchman to honor his memory.”
 
 
The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim, shot dead two people at the supermarket after earlier opening fire on passengers in a car, killing one of them, and injuring a police officer in nearby Carcassonne.

Speaking at the scene on Friday Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said a police team immediately intervened after the start of the siege at around 11 a.m.

They managed to get some of the people out,” he said, but the attacker kept one hostage back as a human shield.

Beltrame then offered to take the hostage's place and remained holed up with Lakdim while negotiations to end the standoff continued.

The officer “left his telephone on the table”, to allow police that had surrounded the building in the sleepy town of 5,000 inhabitants listen in, Collomb said.

“When we heard shots the GIGN (an elite police force) intervened,” the minister said.

Beltrame's name was the top trend on Twitter on Saturday morning as people in France and around the world lined up to pay tribute to the gendarme.

The attack has rocked the normally sleepy town of Trebes, which went on lockdown Friday with heavily armed and masked police carrying out a massive operation in Lakdim's neighbourhood.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights at midnight in a mark of respect for the victims and a minute's silence was held at the Stade de France before a football match between France and Colombia.

Friday's violence took place in a part of France still scarred by a killing spree in 2012 in the city of Toulouse and nearby Montauban where another jihadist, Mohamed Merah, shot dead seven people including three Jewish schoolchildren.

That assault marked the first of several big Islamist attacks in France since 2015, including the massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 in Paris, and a summer 2016 truck attack during Bastille Day festivities in Nice.

The most recent assault came in October when a Tunisian man stabbed to death two women at Marseille's railway station, shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

A state of emergency put in place just after the 2015 Paris attacks was lifted last October when Macron's centrist government passed a new law boosting the powers of security forces.

TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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