The hostage-taker was demanding the release of Nov. 2015 Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam; critically injured military officer hailed as hero as he swaps places with hostage and keeps his cell phone connected to police to help them listen in to the drama unfolding inside the supermarket
An Islamic State hostage-taker, who was seeking the release of November 2015 Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, was shot dead after he killed a passenger while hijacking a car and later gunned down two hostages in a supermarket in southwest France on Friday, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb and police sources say.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking in Trèbes on a jihadist website.
The hostage-taker Redouane Lakdim in his twenties and of Moroccan origin was known to police in connection with some petty crimes and had been jailed once. The presence of his mother and sister in the supermarket suggests he was a local.
According to reports, around 11 am (1000 GMT), the man hijacked a car from the town of Carcassonne, 15 minutes’ drive away from Trebes. He killed a passenger, and shot and injured the car driver and a police officer who tried to intervene.
The suspect then drove to Trebes, a picturesque medieval town of around 5,000 people. He “entered the Super U supermarket around 11.15 am and shots were heard,” a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Heroic cop shot fights for life
During the two-hour hostage drama that followed, French military officer Arnaud Beltrame, 45, swapped places with a hostage inside the supermarket and saved several lives. France is now praying for Beltrame as he fights for his life in a hospital after being shot at by Lakdim.
French President Emmanuel Macron joined the nation to salute the heroic cop.
“He volunteered to take the place of the other hostages and has been very seriously wounded,” Macron said in a televised address.
“He saved lives and honoured his colleagues and his country. He is currently fighting for his life and all our thoughts go out to him and his family,” Macron said.
Beltrame not only saved lives but also kept his cell phone connected to the elite police force outside to help them listen in to what was going on inside the supermarket.
Beltrame persuaded Lakdim to free all hostages. Finally when the officer was left alone, Lakdim opened fire. The elite police force, who were listening in, burst into the supermarket and killed the gunman.
The shootings come with France still on high alert after a string of jihadist attacks since 2015, starting in January that year with the assault on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.
France also suffered major attacks in Paris in November 2015 when IS jihadists killed 130 people in bombings and shootings at bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert venue and the national stadium.
In July 2016, in another attack claimed by IS, a man drove a truck through revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the Riviera resort of Nice, killing 84 people.
A state of emergency put in place just after the Paris attacks was finally lifted in October last year, but soldiers continue to patrol major tourist sites and transport hubs under an anti-terror mission.
The hostage-taking in Trebes is the first deadly attack in France since October, when two young women were stabbed to death outside Marseille’s main train station.
The area of southwest France where Friday’s shootings took place has been scarred by Islamic extremism before.
In 2012, Mohamed Merah shot dead seven people including three Jewish schoolchildren in the nearby city of Toulouse.