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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

France mourns victims of terror attack

A mass was held in Trebes in honour of the four killed and three wounded in Friday's attacks

Mourners leave the service of remembrance at the Saint Etienne Church in Trebes in southwest France, two days after a man carried out an attack in which four people were killed. Eric Cabanis/ AFP Photo
Mourners leave the service of remembrance at the Saint Etienne Church in Trebes in southwest France, two days after a man carried out an attack in which four people were killed. Eric Cabanis/ AFP Photo

Mourners packed a church in a rural French town rocked by a deadly Islamist attack for a Sunday service in tribute to the victims, who included a policeman hailed as a hero for offering himself in place of a hostage.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after taking the place of a woman whom Radouane Lakdim had been using as a human shield during his attack on Friday at a supermarket in the town of Trebes.

The sleepy town of 5,000, located on the picturesque Canal du Midi, is just eight kilometres from the famed medieval walled city of Carcassone, where a silent march is planned next Saturday, the eve of Easter Day.

The bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne celebrated the mass in Trebes' Church of Saint-Etienne to honour the four killed and three wounded in the attacks claimed by ISIL.

"We want this to stop," said Jean-Pierre Bordeaux, who came with his wife Henriette from the nearby village of Capendu to attend the remembrance mass. "We aren't safe from anything anywhere."

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Read more:

France pays tribute to hostage-swap policeman after terror attack

Trèbes attack shows changing face of ISIL

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Parish priest Philippe Guitart warned against blaming Muslims in general for extremist attacks. "We must... help people to learn to live together," he said.

Representatives from the Muslim community attended the mass, which had an overflow crowd listening to the service through loudspeakers outside the small church as armed police stood by.

"We have had a long friendship with them," Bishop Alain Planet said. "They are very aware of this sadness, which affects them as well."

People laid bouquets of white roses outside the town hall in Trebes, with one message reading "Stop the violence, stop, stop".

A national tribute will be held at a later date for Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame, who President Emmanuel Macron said had "died a hero" and deserved "the respect and admiration of the whole nation".

Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame's brother Cedric said the policeman would have known all too well the risk he was taking. "He certainly knew he didn't stand a chance," he said. "He gave his life for another."

Following the worst terror attack of his presidency, Mr Macron has called a meeting later this week of the security services who monitor individuals suspected of radicalisation.

Lakdim, 25, a petty criminal, was on a watchlist, but authorities had concluded the Moroccan-born French national did not pose a threat.

Investigators found notes referring to ISIL at Lakdim's home in Carcassonne, a legal source said, including a hand-written letter in which he claimed allegiance to the jihadist group.

Lakdim, who was armed with a gun, knife and homemade explosive devices according to a security source, was shot dead as police moved in to end his siege of the Super U supermarket where he had holed up after a shooting spree in Carcassonne.

Earlier on Friday the gunman had 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.

Lakdim had already shot dead the supermarket's butcher and a customer when Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame offered to take the place of a woman he had taken hostage.

Lakdim shot and stabbed the policeman before he was himself killed by anti-terror officers.

Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame died of his wounds early on Saturday, becoming the fourth victim in the shooting spree.

World leaders paid homage to the slain officer, with British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeting that his "sacrifice and courage will never be forgotten", while US President Donald Trump denounced the "horrible attack".