Arnaud Beltrame, a French police officer who willingly took the place of a hostage during a standoff with a rampaging gunman Friday in France, died of injuries suffered in the incident early Saturday. His bravery earned him recognition as a hero in a country that has been shaken by a number of terrorist attacks in recent years.
Beltrame, 44, was a lieutenant colonel in the gendarmerie, a part of the French military that focuses on domestic policing. He had previously been decorated for his bravery during operations in Iraq and spent four years in the early 2000s in France's Republican Guard, protecting the Elysee Palace in Paris.
On Saturday evening, the Elysee Palace announced that Beltrame would receive a national honor for “giving his life to protect our fellow citizens,” according to reports in French media.
“He fell as a hero,” President Emmanuel Macron had said in a statement earlier Saturday, calling on French citizens to honor Beltrame's memory.
“France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice,” French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb wrote in a tweet.
According to the Elysee, Beltrame had graduated from France's top military college, Saint-Cyr, in 1999. He was later chosen to join the gendarmerie's elite GSIGN in 2003, and he was deployed to Iraq in 2005. He was married but had no children.
It was only last year that he was named deputy chief of the gendarmerie in France's Aude department. The French president's office noted that his understanding of counterterrorism had won him appreciation in that position.
Beltrame lost his life while trying to end a police standoff with a gunman at a supermarket.
Authorities say Redouane Lakdim, 25, hijacked a car Friday near the town of Carcassonne in Aude, killing a passenger and wounding the driver. Lakdim also shot at a group of police officers on their morning jog, wounding one of them. In the nearby town of Trèbes, the gunman then stormed into a supermarket and took hostages.
Beltrame was one of the first officers to respond, authorities said. Police negotiated with Lakdim to release the hostages, and Beltrame offered himself in place of the final one. Inside the supermarket, Beltrame tried to negotiate with Lakdim. He left his cellphone active on a table to allow authorities outside to listen in. When police heard gunshots, they stormed the building and fatally shot Lakdim.
Three other people were killed and several others were injured during Lakdim's rampage.
News of Beltrame's heroics spread quickly. In an address to the nation Friday, Macron commended the officer, who was then on his deathbed in a hospital: “He saved lives. He is fighting for his life.”
France has suffered a number of terrorist attacks in recent years, including in another market — in January 2015 an attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris left four people dead.
In an interview with the local Depeche du Midi newspaper in December, Beltrame described being trained to counter a terrorist attack on a supermarket. “A mass killing took place in a supermarket. This is the only information that was given to the police,” he told the newspaper, according to a translation from Reuters. “We want to be closer to real conditions, so there is no pre-established scenario.”
In an interview with RTL radio, Beltrame's mother said she was not surprised that he would give himself up for a hostage. “He has always been like that — someone who, since he was born, was doing everything for his country,” said his mother, whose name was not disclosed. “He would say to me: 'I'm doing my job, Mom. That's all.”
On RTL's website, a poll showed overwhelming support for organizing a national honor to Beltrame. The French gendarmerie said Saturday that flags would fly at half-staff in honor of the slain officer.
Tributes have also come from abroad:
Correction: An earlier version of this story misreported Beltrame's age. He was 44, not 45.