PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of people including friends, family and local officials attended a memorial service in Trebes on Sunday to honour the victims of the Islamist militant attack that killed a gendarme and three other people in southwest France last week.
Gendarme Arnaud Beltrame, 44, who voluntarily took the place of a female hostage during the supermarket siege on Friday in the tranquil town near the Pyrenees mountains, received a special tribute for what French President Emmanuel Macron had described as a heroic act.
Beltrame’s death was announced early on Saturday. A judicial source told Reuters his throat had been cut, referring to the autopsy results. He had also been shot during the attack but these wounds were not fatal, the source said.
Other victims were a winegrower who had been in a car the attacker stole in Carcassonne, as well as a butcher and a shopper at the supermarket.
“A life given can not be lost. It transcends misfortune to rally us in unity, it calls us to believe in life stronger than death,” regional Carcassonne and Narbonne Bishop Alain Planet said at the ceremony, which was also attended by representatives of the police and the Muslim community.
U.S. President Donald Trump emphasised Beltrame’s heroic act on Sunday after sharing his “thoughts and prayers” with the victims of the attacks the previous day.
“France honours a great hero. Officer died after bravely swapping places with hostage in ISIS (Islamic State)-related terror attack,” he said on Twitter.
Flowers and messages in tribute to Beltrame were placed in front of the gendarmerie of the medieval city of Carcassonne, where he was based.
Several cities, the National Assembly and police stations across France flew their flags at half-mast in his honour.
Macron decided on Saturday that France would hold a national tribute to Beltrame in the coming days.
“He fell as a hero, giving up his life to halt the murderous enterprise of a jihadist terrorist,” Macron said in a statement shortly before dawn on Saturday.
The attacker was identified by authorities as Radouane Lakdim, a 25-year-old Moroccan-born French national from Carcassonne.
Beltrame had offered to trade places with a hostage the attacker was still holding in the supermarket, whereafter he took her place and left his mobile phone on a table, line open. When shots rang out, elite police stormed the building to kill the assailant, French prosecutor Francois Molin said on Friday.
The Islamic State militant group on Friday claimed responsibility for the attack.
Several hundred investigators devoted to the inquiry were still checking the claim and looking into possible help Lakdim could have received, Macron’s office said.
Searches at the attacker’s home on Saturday showed notes referring to Islamic State in what appeared to be a will, as well as a phone and a computer, judicial sources said.
Investigators also found three improvised explosive devices, a 7.65 mm handgun and a hunting knife in the supermarket, a source said.
Police were still holding two people as part of the investigation - a woman connected to Lakdim and a 17-year-old male said to be one of his friends, the judicial source said.
Since 2015 more than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks by assailants who either pledged allegiance to Islamic State or were inspired by the ultra-hardline group.
France is part of a group of countries whose warplanes have been bombing Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria, where in recent months IS has lost much of a self-proclaimed “caliphate” of territory it seized in 2014.
Friday’s assault was the first deadly Islamist attack in France since last October, when a man stabbed two young women to death in the port city of Marseille before soldiers killed him.
Several attacks over the past year or more have targeted police and soldiers deployed in large numbers to protect civilians and patrol sensitive spots such as airports and train stations.
Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Emmanuel Jarry; Additional reporting by Pascale Antonie; Editing by David Goodman and David Evans