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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Murdered French attack hero honoured in grand national homage

The coffin of Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame was carried in procession in the Wednesday morning drizzle from the Pantheon across Paris to the Hotel des Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon

French Republican guards stand in front of the flag-draped coffin of late Gendarmerie officer Col Arnaud Beltrame. Christian Hartmann / Reuters
French Republican guards stand in front of the flag-draped coffin of late Gendarmerie officer Col Arnaud Beltrame. Christian Hartmann / Reuters

The murdered hero of last week's extremist attack in southern France is being honoured in an elaborate, day-long national homage led by French President Emmanuel Macron.

It comes as questions are being raised about possible failures in French counterterrorism tracking of the gunman, who was on a radicalisation watch list before he went on a rampage last Friday.

The coffin of Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame was carried in procession in the Wednesday morning drizzle from the Pantheon across Paris to the Hotel des Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon.

The French president will deliver a public eulogy in front of colleagues and family of Beltrame, who died of his wounds Saturday morning, hours after swapping himself for a hostage during a siege in a supermarket.

During the ceremony, Mr Macron will posthumously award Beltrame the Legion of Honour, France's highest award.

Three former presidents, Francois Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, are also attending in a symbol of the political dimension this ceremony has taken.

The national homage includes a minute's silence in French police stations and myriad events in schools that both honour Beltrame's memory and provide a focal point for national grief after last Friday's killing spree.

Some 2,000 high school students and scores of police attended the Paris event that began as gendarmes sang the French revolutionary anthem the Marseillaise in the stone courtyard of the French Interior Ministry.

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The ministry's boss, Gerard Collomb, maintained Wednesday morning that there were no "dysfunctions" in tracking Beltrame's killer, Redouane Lakdim, who also killed three other people before he was shot dead by police.

Speaking on France Inter, amid questions on possible failures in counterterrorism tracking, Mr Collomb confirmed the security services were about to reduce the surveillance on Lakdim, who was on a radicalisation watch list.

He said "ultimately no one thought that there would be a hasty attack" by Lakdim, a Moroccan-born French resident with dual nationality.

Questions have been also raised by authorities in Morocco.

The chief of a counterterrorism agency, known as Morocco's FBI, said Tuesday that France never alerted his country about Lakdim's radical behaviour — calling the absence of contact "a misunderstanding".

Since the attack, the agency — created three years ago to consolidate counterterrorism efforts — has been investigating Lakdim's family members in Morocco, Abdelhak Khiame told The Associated Press

Lakdim visited Morocco several times, most recently in February 2012, before the establishment of ISIL, Mr Khiame added.

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