Europe

Trèbes attack: Paris ceremony for hero policeman Arnaud Beltrame

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Media captionPresident Emmanuel Macron said Col Beltrame "fell as a hero"

Tributes have been paid across France to the police officer who died after he offered himself in exchange for a hostage in an Islamist attack.

The coffin carrying Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame was driven in heavy rain through Paris, where hundreds of people joined a national memorial service.

President Emmanuel Macron said the officer, who was 44, symbolised the "French spirit of resistance".

Three other people were also killed in Friday's attacks in southern France.

Col Beltrame's widow and his friends, family and colleagues attended a ceremony at Les Invalides in the French capital.

"To be willing to die so that innocent people continue to live, this is the heart of a soldier's promise," Mr Macron said in his eulogy as the coffin draped in the French flag laid in the cobbled courtyard.

"To be ready to give your own life because nothing is more important than the life of a citizen, this is the ultimate effect of the transcendence he bore."

In the service, also attended by several former French presidents, Mr Macron awarded the officer France's highest accolade, the Legion d'Honneur.

Earlier, a minute's silence was observed at all police stations across France, and flags were lowered to half-mast on public buildings.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Col Beltrame was awarded France's highest accolade, the Legion d'Honneur

The officer was a highly regarded member of the Gendarmerie Nationale, and friends and relatives have remembered his sense of duty and generosity.

His brother Cedric told a French radio station on Saturday: "He gave his life for strangers. He must have known that he didn't really have a chance. If that doesn't make him a hero, I don't know what would."

Col Beltrame's coffin will now travel back to the southern city of Carcassone for his funeral.

A new French hero

By Hugh Schofield, BBC News, Paris

With full honour guard, Arnaud Beltrame's coffin was brought from the Pantheon - the mausoleum for French heroes - through the Latin Quarter and along the quays of the Seine to the Invalides military museum.

Small crowds gathered along the way, but the weather was foul and most people were watching the ceremony on live television. It was a nation coming together to salute the ultimate beau geste, the noble gesture of a gendarme who, by offering himself as a terrorist hostage last Friday, gave his own life to save another's.

Delivering the eulogy, President Macron said while the name of the attacker would sink into oblivion, Arnaud Beltrame's name would be remembered for ever.

He had joined the ranks of the country's heroes.

Mr Macron also urged France to be vigilant in the face of an "insidious" threat by Islamist militants - in the last three years, more than 240 people have been killed in attacks across France.

"What we're fighting is clandestine Islamic fundamentalism, which spreads through social media, which does its work out of sight, which preys on weak and unstable minds, and which on our soil corrupts and indoctrinates on a daily basis," he said.

Col Beltrame's actions helped bring an end to the siege in a supermarket in Trèbes by 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, who had earlier killed a person in Carcassonne.

The gunman - who had claimed to be a supporter of the Islamic State group - had been on an extremist watch list and was known to authorities as a petty criminal, but intelligence services had determined he did not pose a threat.

Sixteen people were injured, two seriously, in what was the worst jihadist attack under Mr Macron's presidency. The gunman was shot dead by police.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption French officials held a minute's silence at the interior ministry

Lakdim was said to have demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the most important surviving suspect in the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

The attacker's girlfriend, who has not been named, is reportedly a convert to Islam who has been known to security services for at least a year.

On Tuesday, she was placed under formal investigation accused of "associating with terrorists preparing attacks" and remains in police custody.

One other person, a 17-year-old friend of the gunman, was released on Monday after being questioned.

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