The death count for Friday's supermarket siege in south-east France has risen to four. An attacker hijacked a car – killing one and wounding another – before opening fire on police and then taking hostages inside a supermarket in Trèbes. Around 50 people were inside the Super U supermarket, and two were killed after the attacker opened fire inside.
A fourth person has now been pronounced dead, and it has been revealed that it was a police officer who swapped himself for a hostage in what has since been named an Islamic State attack. Colonel Arnaud Beltrame selflessly offered himself up to the attacker, allowing a woman to escape the siege unharmed.
He has been commended by France's highest security official, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb. He tweeted early on Saturday that he had "died for his country" and commended his heroism, bravery and sacrifice.
During his brave manoeuvre, Beltrame left his mobile phone on as he entered the supermarket, allowing the police outside to hear what was happening inside. The attacker, identified by prosecutors as Moroccan-born Redouane Lakdim, reportedly shouted "Allahu akbar! (God is great)" and claimed he was a "soldier of the Islamic State".
After officials heard shots inside the store, they stormed it and managed to kill the gunman, ending the four-hour event. Beltrame was among the 16 people who were injured during the shooting, and was later pronounced dead after fighting for his life in hospital.
"We heard an explosion – well, several explosions," recalled shopper Christian Guibbert. "I went to see what was happening and I saw a man lying on the floor and another person, very agitated, who had a gun in one hand and a knife in the other."
French President Emmanuel Macron said Beltrame "fell as a hero" and showed "exceptional courage". Beltrame's brother, Cedric said his actions were "beyond the call of duty".
"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," he said.
President Macron called it an act of "Islamist terrorism", who flew from Brussels to Paris to chair a crisis meeting with officials and ministers. It's the deadliest attack of its kind since Macron became president last May.
"I want to tell the nation tonight of my absolute determination in leading this fight," he said, before adding that investigators were specifically looking into how Lakdim got his weapon and how he became radicalized.
Ladkim was under surveillance and was suspected of being radicalized. He was known to police for petty crime and drug dealing, but authorities doubted he would carry out an act of terrorism. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said there was "no warning sign" that the 25-year-old was going to do it. A woman with alleged links to a terrorist organisation who was close to Lakdim was taken into custody after the attack.
The death toll of the supermarket siege adds to the 240 people and more who have been killed in France since 2015 by attackers associated themselves with Islamic State.