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France honors hero officer who took hostage’s place

Mourners clutching umbrellas lined the streets of Paris on Wednesday to honor the police officer who died after swapping places with a hostage during a terror attack in southern France on Friday.

Under gray skies, a cavalcade of officers on motorbikes and horseback led the funeral procession through the capital toward the Hotel des Invalides, a historic building dedicated to France’s servicemen and women.

There French President Emmanuel Macron led the tributes to Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, 45, who offered to take the place of a female hostage during an attack by an ISIS supporter on a supermarket in Trèbes.

Beltrame was shot in the neck during the attack, dying from his wounds later that day.

“To accept to die so the innocent can live, that is what is in the heart of the soldier’s commitment,” said Macron at the ceremony honoring Beltrame.

He added that Beltrame’s willingness to give his life was “greatness that so transfixed the whole of France.”

The officer will be posthumously awarded the prestigious “Commander of the Legion d’Honneur” medal.

His attacker, Radouane Lakdim, 26, a Moroccan-born French national, was a petty criminal already on the radar of French police for his links to radical Salafist networks, authorities said.

When he burst into the supermarket Friday, he shouted he was a soldier from ISIS, witnesses said, and then opened fire and killed a worker and a customer. He was shot dead by police on the scene.

The attacker killed four people in total. Along with Beltrame, two other people died and more than a dozen were wounded in the supermarket raid. He also killed another person earlier Friday while stealing a car.

Police found two unexploded homemade bombs, a 7.65 mm pistol and a hunting knife when they searched the market after the attack, a French judicial source told CNN.

Illustrious career as officer

Married with no children, Beltrame had served in the French military police and received a number of awards for bravery.

He served in Iraq in 2005, and was given an award for bravery in 2007, Macron said. For four years, he was a commander in the Republican Guard, which provides security at the Élysée Palace, home of the French President.

Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the antiterror police in the Aude region.

According to the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Beltrame led a simulated terror attack in December on a supermarket for training purposes, similar to the one Friday in which he lost his life.

How the rampage unfolded

Before arriving at the supermarket, the gunman stole a car, killing one person in the vehicle and wounding another, the interior minister said.

The gunman then shot at four National Police officers who were jogging in Carcassonne. The driver tried to run the officers down. One of them was wounded, but he was not in serious condition.

As Friday’s supermarket attack was underway, Beltrame offered to exchange himself for one of the female hostages held inside. He was shot while entering the market.

Beltrame had left his phone on so police could hear his interactions with the gunman, according to Interior Minister Gérard Collomb.

As soon as they heard gunfire, police went in and killed the gunman.

Terror attacks in France in recent years

More than 230 people have died in a series of Islamist-inspired terror attacks in France over the past three years.

In January 2015, a total of 17 people were killed in attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a kosher grocery store and the Paris suburb of Montrouge. In November 2015, at least 130 were killed in attacks at several locations across the French capital.

In 2016, 86 people died in Nice when a truck rammed into crowds during Bastille Day celebrations. There have also been a string of “lone wolf” ISIS-inspired attacks, including the killings of a priest and rabbi.

France remained under a state of emergency for about two years after the Paris attacks. It was lifted late last year.