France attack: Lakdim’s girlfriend ‘known to security services’

The girlfriend of the man who carried out last week’s attack in south-west France was known to the security services, local media report.

A source close to the investigation told the AFP news agency the 18-year-old French woman, who is in custody, showed “signs of radicalisation”.

Four people were killed and 15 injured in the attack on 23 March.

The gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, was on an extremist watch list but it was decided he was not a threat.

  • Arnaud Beltrame: France lauds policeman who swapped with hostage

    He was shot dead by police after killing and injuring a number of people in separate incidents, including taking hostages at a supermarket in the town of Trèbes.

    Tributes have been paid to the victims, including a French gendarme who was killed after swapping places with one of the hostages.

    According to French-language radio station RMC, the attacker’s girlfriend is a convert to Islam who has been known to security services for at least a year. She has not been named but remains in police custody.

    A 17-year-old said to have been a friend of the attacker is also being held.

    Lakdim, who was born in Morocco and became a French citizen in 2004, was a petty criminal before he was flagged as a potential security threat in 2014.

    During the attack, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and is 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.

    Prosecutor Francois Molins said Lakdim had been on an extremist watch-list due to “his radicalisation and his links with the Salafist movement”, a hard-line offshoot of Sunni Islam. However, there had been no indication he would carry out an attack.

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.

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.