The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the shooting and hostage-taking in southern France, saying the attack was carried by one of its “soldiers.”
The IS-linked Aamaq news agency quoted a security official as saying that “a soldier of the Islamic State” carried out the attack in response to calls to target “countries of the coalition.”
It was referring to the U.S.-led coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq since 2014. France is part of that coalition.
An armed man took hostages in a supermarket, killing three people and injuring 16 others before being shot to death when French police stormed the market, authorities said.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb praised the “heroism” of a French police officer “volunteered to swap his place with a hostage” and stayed with the armed suspect. He managed to leave his cellphone switched on after the swap, establishing a contact with officers outside the supermarket in the hours-long standoff Friday.
Collomb said elite French forces stormed the market and killed the gunman after hearing gunshots inside. He did not say how or when the police officer was injured.
Collomb identified the suspect as Redouane Lakdim, 26, a petty criminal and small-time drug dealer who he said was radicalized and under police surveillance. Collomb said Lakdim in the standoff requested the release of Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving assailant of Nov. 13, 2015, attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.
He says Lakdim acted alone.
French President Emmanuel Macron said investigators are trying to establish how the suspect obtained the gun used in the attack in Trebes and nearby city of Carcassonne, where officials say the 26-year-old hijacked a car and claimed his first victim.
In an hours-long standoff, special police units converged on the scene and authorities blocked roads and urged residents to stay away.
A customer in the supermarket described the assailant as a “very agitated man shouting several times ‘Allahu akbar!'”
Christian Guibbert told reporters “we heard an explosion, well, several explosions. So I went to see what was happening and I saw a man lying on the floor and another person, very agitated, who had a gun in one hand and a knife in the other one.”
Guibbert said he had sought shelter with his wife, sister-in-law and other customers into the butchery’s refrigerator. Then he went back into the supermarket’s main room and walked toward the assailant, calling police and describing the situation.
He says the suspect “ran after me.” Guibbert escaped out an emergency market door as elite police forces arrived to storm the building.
France has been on high alert since a string of Islamic extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016 that killed more than 200 people. The shootings occurred in a normally quiet part of France, where the main tourist attraction is the treasured old city of Carcassonne, its medieval walls and its summertime festivals.