Three people are dead and another 16 have been injured after a gunman yelling “God is greatest” in Arabic opened fire on a supermarket in southern France.
The man, who claimed to be a soldier of the Islamic State, stormed the Super U supermarket in the town of Trèbes, 80 kilometres south east of Toulouse, on Saturday (Friday afternoon local time), taking an unknown number of hostages.
At least 10 shoppers managed to hide inside a cold room and by the time police stormed the building, the gunman was holding only a 45-year-old police lieutenant-colonel who had exchanged himself after the hostages were freed.
The gunman was killed and French President Emmanuel Macron said the police officer was fighting for his life in hospital.
Le Parisien newspaper identified the suspect as 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim, a man of Moroccan background who reportedly made a trip to Syria and was active on ultra-conservative, Sunni Islam forums.
The gunman’s rampage allegedly began in the nearby town of Carcassone, 15 minutes from Trèbes, where he hijacked a car, killing one passenger and injuring the driver.
BBC reports he then opened fire on a group of plain-clothed police officers, injuring at least one man.
President Macron linked the two episodes, saying the attack in Trèbes “was first an attack against police officers”.
The gunman is believed to have then driven to Trèbes where he stormed the Super U supermarket, reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said all signs pointed towards a “terrorist attack”.
Hundreds of police descended on the small town before the police officer reportedly volunteered to swap himself for one of the hostages.
Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters the officer left his mobile phone line open during the siege so police outside could monitor the situation.
Police stormed the supermarket once they heard gunshots and killed the gunman. Two people were believed to have been killed during the siege.
A woman who was shopping at the supermarket described how people had taken refuge in a cold room.
“A man shouted and fired several times. I saw a cold room door, I asked people to come and take shelter,” she told Franceinfo radio.
Lakdim reportedly demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks which killed 130 people.
Mr Collomb said the gunman, who acted alone, was being monitored by French intelligence agencies but did not present as a serious risk, and was mostly known for drug dealing.
“He was known for petty crimes. We had monitored him and thought there was no radicalisation,” he said, according to Reuters.
Counter-terrorism prosecutors are leading the investigation.
President Macron was on stage at the EU summit in Brussels when he was informed of the hostage situation and will return to France to oversee the response.
Lakdim reportedly lived with his parents and younger sister in an apartment in Carcassonne which was raided by police on Friday.
The propaganda agency of the Islamic State terrorist organisation claimed responsibility for the attacks.
More than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since 2015 by assailants who pledged allegiance to, or were inspired by, Islamic State group.