France gun attack: Trèbes held memorial Mass for victims

A memorial Mass has been celebrated in the southern French town of Trèbes, in honour of four people killed by an Islamist gunman on Friday.

One of them, policeman Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, has been hailed as a hero for trading places with a captive during a siege at a supermarket.

The bishop at the church told hundreds of mourners that his actions were comparable to that of a saint.

It is the worst jihadist attack under Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.

The gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, 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. He was shot dead by police.

Lakdim, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State militants, 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.

  • France approves tough new anti-terror laws
  • Tributes paid for hostage-swap policeman

    In the packed Church of Saint-Etienne in Trèbes, the bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne compared the police officer’s actions with those of a Polish saint who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger at the World War Two death camp at Auschwitz.

    Mourners, which included members of the local Muslim community, lined the back and front steps of the church.

    “Your presence tells us that the creators of hatred will not win,” Bishop Alain Planet said to the Muslim congregates in his address.

    Outside the 14th-century church, the local imam later said according to the news agency AFP: “The [Muslim] community has been stabbed, Islam itself has been stabbed… by people who use symbols that are dear to our hearts.”

    The chief of French police, Richard Lizurey, attended the service and later told reporters that Col Beltrame was an inspiration to those working in the French security services.

    “It’s an heroic act. In fact an exceptional act, carried out in the heat of action,” the head of the Gendarmerie said. “We are proud. Proud to have counted Arnaud Beltrame among us.”

    The attack has shaken the rural town of 5,000 people, and flowers have been laid in front of the Super U shop where the hostage-taking took place, as well as outside Col Beltrame’s police barracks. A separate national memorial in Paris will also honour the killed officer in the coming days.

    Khadija, a 52-year-old restaurant owner, said she was shocked by what had occurred. “We thought this only happened in big towns,” she told AFP.

    Who were the victims?

    Jean Mazières

    Before the hostage-taking in Trèbes, Lakdim hijacked a car in nearby Carcassonne, shooting the Portuguese driver and killing passenger Jean Mazières, a retired winemaker in his sixties.

    He organised villages fetes and was described as “very jolly” by Marc Rofes, the mayor of Villedubert, where his family lives.

    “He loved life, he loved parties… we have lost someone who was liked by everybody,” he said of Mr Mazières, who was married and had one child.

    The driver of the car remains in a critical condition.

    Christian Medvès

    After opening fire on a group of police officers out jogging, wounding one, the gunman drove to the Super U in Trèbes, where he killed the shop’s chief butcher, Christian Medvès.

    An amateur runner and one-time local political candidate, Mr Medvès, 50, was described as having the “joy of life”.

    “We do not know yet what happened, but knowing Christian, I imagine he would have wanted to intervene,” his friend Franck Alberti told local paper La Dépêche du Midi.

    He was married with two daughters.

    Hervé Sosna

    Retired builder Hervé Sosna, 65, was at the butcher’s counter when Lakdim mounted his assault.

    The Trèbes resident “had a huge intellectual capacity” and was a capacious reader, especially of poetry, his half-brother told La Dépêche du Midi.

    “He never asked for anything, and he was killed, just like that.”

    Arnaud Beltrame

    The brave police officer has emerged as the human face of this attack, and his actions are being seen as a defiant response to the country’s would-be attackers – a reminder of the best of France, says BBC Paris correspondent Lucy Williamson.

    Although police managed to free hostages from the supermarket, Lakdim had held one woman back as a human shield, and Col Beltrame volunteered to swap himself for her.

    As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

    When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame, who was 44, was mortally wounded.

    He and his wife, Marielle, had been married in a civil ceremony but were planning a church wedding in June. The Catholic priest who was meant to officiate at the ceremony visited Col Beltrame in hospital, where Marielle was keeping vigil, before he died.

    World leaders, including UK PM Theresa May, have paid tribute to the officer, who was a highly-regarded member of the Gendarmerie Nationale and was described by President Macron on Saturday as someone who “fought until the end and never gave up”.

    “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 brother, Cedric, told a French radio station on Saturday.

    Speaking to the BBC, Col Arnaud’s cousin Florence Nicolic described the officer as a person who was “so good at his job”.

    “Even though we were surprised and shocked when we heard what happened we were not surprised in the sense that that’s the thing he would do without hesitation,” Ms Nicolic said.

    Col Beltrame was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was later awarded the Cross for Military Valour for his peacekeeping work. On his return to France, Col Beltrame joined the country’s Republican Guard and was tasked with protecting the presidential palace.

    In 2017, he was named deputy chief of the Gendarmerie Nationale in the French region of Aude.

Carles Puigdemont, former Catalan president, detained in Germany

Catalonia’s ex-leader Carles Puigdemont has been detained by German police acting on a European arrest warrant.

Mr Puigdemont, who is wanted in Spain for sedition and rebellion, was held crossing from Denmark on the way to Belgium, his lawyer said.

Mr Puigdemont had been on a visit to Finland since Thursday.

He has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since Catalonia’s parliament unilaterally declared independence from Spain in October.

The charges of rebellion and sedition that Mr Puigdemont faces in Spain could result in 30 years in prison.

He slipped out of Finland on Friday before authorities could arrest him.

  • The man who wants to break up Spain
  • Catalan crisis in 300 words

    “The president was going to Belgium to put himself, as always, at the disposal of Belgian justice,” his spokesman Joan Maria Pique said.

    German police said that Mr Puigdemont was detained by a highway patrol in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, which borders Denmark.

    Tensions in Catalonia are very high and its separatist leaders abandoned plans to name a new president following the arrest of the latest candidate, Jordi Turull, on Friday.

    Crowds of protesters had clashed with police in Barcelona on Friday night after Spain’s Supreme Court ruled 25 Catalan leaders should be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobeying the state. Mr Turull was among five people taken into custody in fresh arrests.

    The rulings were considered the most serious challenge to date to the Catalan independence movement. Almost the entire leadership now faces a major legal fight.

    Following the referendum, the central government in Madrid sacked the Catalan regional government, imposed direct rule and called new elections but pro-independence parties returned with a slim majority.

    International warrants for Mr Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders were withdrawn in December by a Spanish judge, who said they had shown a willingness to return to the country.

    The warrants were reactivated on Friday, surprising Mr Puigdemont, who had been in Finland to give a university lecture.

    Among those wanted is Catalonia’s former education minister, Clara Ponsati. She is in Scotland, where she has a position at the University of St Andrews.

    Who is Carles Puigdemont?

    Carles Puigdemont, 55, is a former journalist who worked for pro-independence media in Catalonia and headed the Catalan News Agency.

    After moving to politics, he became an MP and later mayor of Girona, north-east of Barcelona.

    In 2016, he became leader of Catalonia and led the region to the referendum the following year.

    During his self-imposed exile following the resulting crisis, Mr Puigdemont told Belgian TV he was not hiding from “real justice” but from the “clearly politicised” Spanish legal system.

    How we got here

    1 October 2017: The independence referendum takes place in Catalonia

    27 October: Catalonia’s leaders declare independence, which leads to the Spanish government imposing direct rule on the region and dissolving its parliament

    30 October: Charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds are brought against various sacked members of the Catalan government, including Mr Puigdemont

    2 November: Several former Catalan ministers are taken into custody in Spain

    3 November: European Arrest Warrants are issued against Mr Puigdemont and four of his allies, who have all fled to Belgium

    5 December: A Spanish judge withdraws the European arrest warrants but says the group still face possible charges for sedition and rebellion

    21 December: Carles Puigdemont is re-elected to parliament during Catalan’s regional elections – which Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy had called to “restore democracy”

    1 March 2018: Mr Puigdemont says he is stepping aside to allow detained activist Jordi Sanchez to run as Catalonia’s president

    21 March: Mr Sanchez drops his leadership bid and instead the candidacy is passed to Jordi Turull

    23 March: Mr Turull and various others are arrested in Spain, and the European arrest warrants are reactivated

Eurovision: First winner Lys Assia dies aged 94

The first person to win the Eurovision Song Contest, Lys Assia, has died at the age of 94, competition organisers have announced.

She took the prize for Switzerland in 1956, with the song Refrain, and went on to perform in two more contests.

Lys Assia died on Saturday at the Zollikerberg Hospital in Zurich.

Eurovision described her as the “first lady” of the competition, and said it planned further tributes to her in the coming days.

Assia’s triumph in the first-ever Eurovision came in Lugano, Switzerland. She finished eighth in the 1957 contest but achieved more success a year later, coming second with her song, Giorgio.

Born in Rupperswil, northern Switzerland, in 1924, she began her career as a dancer before turning to singing.

Her association with Eurovision was long-lasting and in 2005 she performed in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

At the age of 87 she decided to return to the contest and tried – unsuccessfully – to represent Switzerland in 2012 and 2013.

Her death closely follows that of former Eurovision host Katie Boyle, who died at her home in the UK aged 91 last week.

Arnaud Beltrame: France lauds policeman who swapped with hostage

Tributes are pouring in for a French police officer who died saving the lives of hostages in a supermarket siege by an Islamist gunman on Friday.

Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after he traded places with one of the captives following a shooting spree in southern France.

Flags are being flown at half-mast at gendarmerie bases across France.

His brother Cedric said Col Arnaud “didn’t have a chance”, adding that 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,” Col Arnaud’s brother Cedric told a French radio station on Saturday.

Speaking to the BBC, Col Arnaud’s cousin Florence Nicolic described the officer as a person who was “so good at his job”.

“Even though we were surprised and shocked when we heard what happened we were not surprised in the sense that that’s the thing he would do without hesitation,” Ms Nicolic said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to the officer, saying that Col Arnaud “fell as a hero” after showing “exceptional courage and selflessness”, adding that he deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”.

UK PM Theresa May said the “sacrifice and courage” of the police officer would not be forgotten.

His actions helped bring an end to the siege that left three people dead.

The radical Islamist gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, was eventually shot and killed by police.

Sixteen people were injured, two seriously, in what Mr Macron called an act of “Islamist terrorism”.

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.

Prosecutors are reportedly questioning two people in connection with the attacks, one of whom is thought to be the gunman’s partner while the other is believed to be a friend.

How will Col Beltrame be remembered?

Col Beltrame was a highly-regarded member of the Gendarmerie Nationale and was described by France’s president on Saturday as someone who “fought until the end and never gave up”.

He graduated in 1999 from France’s leading military academy in Saint Cyr and in 2003 became one of just a handful of candidates chosen to join the gendarmerie’s elite security response group GSIGN.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was later awarded the Cross for Military Valour for his peacekeeping work. On his return to France, Col Beltrame joined the country’s Republican Guard and was tasked with protecting the presidential palace.

In 2017, he was named deputy chief of the Gendarmerie Nationale in the French region of Aude, home to the medieval town of Carcassonne, where Lakdim began his deadly shooting spree on Friday.

As recently as December, Col Beltrame took part in a simulated terror attack on a local supermarket in the region.

Col Beltrame becomes the seventh member of France’s security forces to be killed in such attacks since 2012.

What led up to Friday’s siege?

The violence began on Friday morning in Carcassonne, where Lakdim hijacked a car. He killed a passenger – whose body was later found hidden in a bush – and injured the driver.

He then shot at a group of policemen who were out jogging, wounding one of them.

Lakdim is then believed to have driven a short distance to the small town of Trèbes, where he stormed into the Super-U supermarket, shouting, “I am a soldier of Daesh [Islamic State]!”

He killed two people – a customer and a store worker – before seizing others as hostages.

At what point was the officer wounded?

Mr Collomb told reporters on Friday that police officers had managed to get some people out of the supermarket but the gunman had held one woman back as a human shield.

It was at this point, he said, that Col Beltrame had volunteered to swap himself for her.

As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame was mortally wounded.

After the announcement of his death early on Saturday, France’s Gendarmerie Nationale – a police force part of the military – honoured its fallen “comrade”, saying Col Beltrame “gave his life for the freedom of the hostages”.

What do we know about Redouane Lakdim?

Lakdim, was born in April 1992 in Morocco and had French nationality. He was known to French intelligence services.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said Lakdim had been on an extremist watch-list due to “his radicalisation and his links with the Salafist movement”, a hardline offshoot of Sunni Islam. However, subsequent investigations by intelligence services had not turned up any signs he would act, he said.

In 2011, Lakdim was found guilty of carrying a prohibited weapon and in 2015 he was convicted for drug use and refusing a court order, Mr Molins said.

Earlier, Mr Collomb said that though Lakdim had been known to authorities as a petty criminal, they “did not think he had been radicalised”.

Lakdim lived in an apartment in Carcassonne with his parents and several sisters. A neighbour saw him taking one of his sisters to school on Friday morning.

The family’s apartment was raided by police on Friday afternoon.

Carles Puigdemont: The man who wants to break up Spain

Catalonia’s sacked President Carles Puigdemont has spearheaded the region’s peaceful drive for independence from Spain.

In defiance of the law and Spain’s constitution, he has pushed forward in the hope of international recognition.

But his zeal for secession has put him on a collision course with Madrid. It outlawed the independence referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October.

After imposing direct rule, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called a snap Catalan election. But the result on 21 December was bad news for Madrid. The separatists won a slim majority, even though a pro-unity party came top.

  • Madrid’s enforcer for Catalonia

    “It is time for the political recipe, which Rajoy failed at,” Mr Puigdemont said, calling again for negotiations with the Spanish leader. “He has only demonstrated a greater mobilisation of Catalans, greater votes.”

    His popularity cuts across class, coming as he does from comparatively modest origins, outside the Catalan elite which for years dominated the local centre-right alliance, Convergence and Union (now known as the Catalan European Democratic Party).

    “Mr Puigdemont has been absolutely key to bringing Catalonia to where we are now,” says Montse Daban, international chairperson of the Catalan National Assembly, a grassroots pro-independence movement.

    “He’s been an absolute and positive surprise for Catalan citizens, who were already supporting the independence process and saw with dismay that it was facing several burdens.”

    But in the eyes of Spain’s government, the Catalan leader has ruthlessly created a crisis, burning all the bridges in order to make a unilateral declaration of independence.

    “Democracy is not about voting – there are referenda in dictatorships too,” a Madrid government source told the BBC. “Only when you vote with guarantees according to the law is it a democracy.”

    • Reality Check: Would Catalonia be a viable country?

      The images of violence at the polling stations were “150% part of Puigdemont’s plan”, the source said.

      “It’s unfortunate because it was a trap. There’s no doubt it looks bad for the Spanish government.”

      New platform

      Mr Puigdemont talks the language of independence in a way his more cautious predecessor, Artur Mas, did not during the dry-run referendum of 2014, which was also banned by Madrid.

      Speaking to the BBC after the 1 October referendum, Mr Puigdemont said: “I think we’ve won the right to be heard, but what I find harder to understand is this indifference – or absolute lack of interest – in understanding what is happening here. They’ve never wanted to listen to us.

      “How can we explain to the world that Europe is a paradise of democracy if we hit old women and people who’ve done nothing wrong? This is not acceptable. We haven’t seen such a disproportionate and brutal use of force since the death of the dictator Franco.”

      He calls for mediation – something the Spanish government says is unacceptable.

      A Madrid source dismissed the idea, telling the BBC it would be “mediation between the Spanish government and part of the Spanish state”.

      From Brussels, Mr Puigdemont has watched as his Catalan allies back home have been placed in Spanish custody to face trial.

      He has been mocked by some for not going to Madrid along with them and placing himself in the hands of Spanish justice.

      One cartoon apparently being circulated on the Whatsapp messaging app shows him, with his distinctive mop of hair and glasses, hiding out in a box of Belgian chocolates.

      Skip Twitter post by @p_hansens

      Unsigned cartoon circulating on whatsApp : Where is #Puigdemont ? #Brussels #Catalonia pic.twitter.com/bzHE1eP0Bv

      — Pascal Hansens (@p_hansens) November 3, 2017

      Report

      End of Twitter post by @p_hansens

      But he has only followed the path taken by earlier Catalan leaders like Josep Tarradellas and Lluís Companys, seeking refuge abroad from a hostile Spanish state.

      Mr Puigdemont told Belgian TV he was not hiding from “real justice” but from the “clearly politicised” Spanish legal system.

      While European arrest warrants against him and his four colleagues were later withdrawn by a Spanish judge, he still faces possible charges of rebellion and sedition if he returns.

      Just by being in Brussels, the man from Girona is keeping the cause he holds so dear, Catalan independence, squarely on the doorstep of the European Union.

Catalonia crisis in 300 words

Catalonia’s drive for independence has plunged Spain into its biggest political crisis for 40 years.

On 21 December pro-independence parties won a narrow majority in a Catalan election that Spain had called in the hope of ending the crisis. So independence remains a possibility.

What is Catalonia?

Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in north-east Spain with a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years.

The wealthy region has about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem. Catalonia also has its own police force and controls some of its public services.

Why the controversy?

Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain, as taxes are controlled by Madrid.

They also say Spain’s changes to their autonomous status in 2010 undermined Catalan identity.

In a referendum on 1 October, declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, about 90% of Catalan voters backed independence. But turnout was only 43%.

There were clashes when Spanish national police tried to prevent people voting.

The ruling separatists in the Catalan parliament then declared independence on 27 October.

Angered by that, Madrid imposed direct rule by invoking Article 155 of the constitution – a first for Spain.

The Spanish government sacked the Catalan leaders, dissolved parliament and called a snap regional election on 21 December.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium but is wanted in Spain accused of rebellion, as are four who fled with him. Two of his ex-ministers are in prison in Spain.

Why does the crisis matter?

Thousands of businesses have scaled down their operations in Catalonia.

The crisis is being watched nervously by other European states with strong nationalist movements.

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Catalonia in numbers