Mother of slain French officer urges tolerance ahead of tribute


Paris (AFP)

The mother of a French policeman killed after taking the place of a hostage during a jihadist gunman's attacks last week called for tolerance Monday as the country prepared a national tribute for the officer.

Nicolle Beltrame said she was not surprised by her 44-year-old son Arnaud's selfless act at a supermarket in southwest France on Friday, saying he was a fierce patriot and proud serviceman.

"Arnaud would not have wanted us to give up," she told RTL radio. "I'm here to honour him and I'm speaking to honour him, so that his act has some purpose, that we're a bit more human, a bit more tolerant."

Arnaud Beltrame was killed on Friday during a shooting spree and hostage-taking around the towns of Carcassonne and Trebes by Radouane Lakdim, a Moroccan-born French national, that left four people dead and three injured.

Beltrame said when she heard that a policeman had been killed on Friday, she knew it was her son.

"I know Arnaud: loyal, altruistic, and since he was small, working for other people, committed to the country," she said.

Richard Lizurey, the head of France's gendarmes police service, said Beltrame had taken the initiative to swap places with a woman being used by Lakdim as a human shield at the Super U supermarket in Trebes.

"It was the first time in the history of the service this kind of act was done," Lizurey told France Inter radio.

"The decision made by Arnaud Beltrame was his own decision, which he determined he had to do because he wanted to save a hostage's life, which is what he did," Lizurey said.

President Emmanuel Macron's office has said a national tribute will be organised in the coming days, expected for Wednesday or Thursday.

"He has not spoken to me directly but I'm aware there will indeed be a national commemoration at the Invalides," the officer's mother said, referring to the military museum and hospital in Paris.

- Suspects under surveillance -

The outpouring of emotion over Beltrame's sacrifice came as authorities pursued their investigations into how Lakdim was able to obtain his weapons, and whether he had any accomplices.

Sources close to the inquiry told AFP on Monday that Lakdim's girlfriend, like the gunman himself, had been on a watchlist of suspected extremists.

The 18-year-old woman, who has been in police custody since Friday evening, was under surveillance by intelligence services, one source told AFP.

A legal source had told AFP on Sunday that the woman was answering questions during her detention, and had "shown signs of radicalisation".

A 17-year-old man described as a friend of Lakdim's has also been detained for questioning.

Lakdim, 25, a drug dealer with a criminal record, was on France's extremist watchlist but authorities had concluded that he did not pose a threat.

But investigators have found notes at his home in Carcassonne referring to the Islamic State group, a legal source said, including a handwritten letter in which he claimed allegiance to the jihadists.

On Friday, Lakdim, armed with a gun, knife and homemade explosive devices, hijacked a car in Carcassonne and shot the two people inside, killing the passenger and leaving the Portuguese driver in a critical condition.

He also shot and wounded a police officer out jogging before heading to Trebes, where he killed the butcher and a customer at the Super U supermarket before taking hostages.

Beltrame was shot and stabbed in the throat by Lakdim shortly before police stormed the store and ended the siege.

- 'Photos of heroes, not killers' -

Hundreds of mourners packed a church service Sunday for the victims of France's latest Islamist attack.

"He couldn't have done anything else, he wasn't someone who could shirk something," Nicolle Beltrame said of her son.

"I'm not surprised, even if it's very painful and it will be very hard to live without him."

Asked if she felt hatred towards Lakdim, she replied: "Not at all. I feel indifference and the greatest sense of contempt."

"I think that someone must not be right in the head to do something like this."

She also suggested not even talking about him, "not showing his photo. We should show the photos of heroes, not killers and monsters."