TREBES, France (Reuters) - French officials hailed the bravery of a gendarme who was severely wounded 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.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said the gunman had opened fire on the gendarme, critically wounding him. The sound of that shooting prompted commando units to storm the building, when they killed the gunman.
The gunman had killed one person while stealing a car in the mediaeval city of Carcassonne before seizing the supermarket in the nearby town of Trebes, where he killed two others.
Speaking to reporters at the scene, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said: “I want to hail the courage of the lieutenant-colonel who took the hostage’s place and who is now seriously wounded.”
While inside the supermarket, the gendarme had placed his mobile phone, with an open line, on a table near himself and the assailant, Collomb said. “That way we were able to hear what was going on at a given moment.”
The officer’s name and his personal details were not officially disclosed but France Info radio and BFM TV were among several media to identify him as Arnaud Beltrame.
In an interview in December with the local Independent newspaper, 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”.
Witnesses interviewed by Reuters 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.
Additional reporting by Sophie Louet; Writing by Brian Love and John Irish