Arnaud Beltrame: France pays tribute to hero police officer killed after swapping places with terror attack hostage

Tributes have been paid across France to the police officer who sacrificed himself to save a hostage during an Islamist attack on a supermarket.

Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame ”symbolised the French spirit of resistance”, said the country’s president Emmanuel Macron as he delivered his eulogy at Invalides military museum in Paris.

As rain poured down on the French capital, the officer’s coffin had earlier wound its way through the city’s streets from the Pantheon – a secular mausoleum for French heroes. Hundreds lined the streets despite the weather.

Lt Col Beltrame was killed after swapping places with a female hostage at the siege in the Super U supermarket in the small village of Trebes in southern France last week.

“To accept to die so the innocent can live: that is the essence of what it means to be a soldier,” Mr Macron said. “Others, even many who are brave, would have wavered or hesitated.”

He awarded the officer France’s highest medal – the Legion d’Honneur.

Lt Col Beltrame’s name would live forever while his attacker’s would sink into oblivion, Mr Macron said.

He was joined at the ceremony by his predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Schools and police stations around the country observed a minute’s silence.

Two cities in southern France, Pau and Beziers, have announced they will both name streets in honour of Lt Col Beltrame, and the mayor of Versailles said he plans to do the same.

Colleagues of the police officer also paid tribute.

“In serving the country he gave his life,” General Denis Favier, a former senior official in the National Gendarmerie, told France’s BFM TV. “He showed he was a man of values, a man of honour who went beyond the call of duty to fulfil his mission.”

The gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, began his attack five miles east of Trebes in the medieval town of Carcassonne.

There he stole a car after shooting the passenger dead and seriously wounding the driver. He then opened fire on a group of police joggers, before driving to Trebes where he took hostages.

Lt Col Beltrame led the team of gendarmes who arrived first on the scene. He persuaded Lakdim to release a woman he was holding as a human shield, laying down his weapon and putting his mobile phone on a table with the line surreptitiously left open.

After shots were heard down the line, police stormed the building and they found Lt Col Beltrame with gunshot wounds to his arm and foot. He also suffered a major knife wound to his neck. He died the following morning.

A customer and an employee of the supermarket were found dead.

Lakdim claimed to be an Isis supporter and had been on an extremist watch list. He was already known to authorities as a petty criminal, but France’s intelligence services had determined he did not pose a public threat.

Last week’s attack was the first since Mr Macron took power. He lifted a two-year state of emergency imposed after Islamist militants killed 130 people in coordinated attacks on Paris in November 2015.

Political opponents have pressed Mr Macron to deal more firmly with radical Islamism in France.