SAINT-JUST, France: Three police officers were killed and a fourth wounded in central France yesterday when a man opened fire as they responded to a domestic violence call, the deadliest attack in years on French security forces outside of terrorism incidents. The suspect, a 48-year-old man known to authorities for child custody disputes, was “discovered dead” several hours after fleeing the home in an isolated hamlet near Saint-Just, a village of some 160 people south of Clermont-Ferrand, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet.
“This is one of the most tragic events in the history” of France’s Gendarmes force, which often ensures law enforcement in rural areas, Darmanin said after arriving at the scene. He gave no further details on how the man died, though a ministry source told AFP the suspect “was found dead in his vehicle, apparently a suicide”. Identified by officials as Frederik L, he opened fire at two officers who arrived at the house shortly after midnight after being alerted to a reported domestic assault.
One was killed immediately and the other shot in the thigh before the man set fire to the house, where a woman had climbed onto the roof. Police reinforcements and firefighters were rushed to the scene, and all roads leading to the house were blocked off, according to the prosecutor’s office in Clermont-Ferrand.
Two further police who were trying to determine if rescue officers could reach their shot colleagues were then fired on and killed by the suspect, who had barricaded himself in the house. “He was an amateur shooter” and was “heavily armed, with a rifle and two pistols”, a source close to the inquiry said. He later escaped and some 300 officers spent hours searching for the suspect.
‘History of violence’
Darmanin’s deputy Marlene Schiappa told BFM television that the woman herself had called police to say she was being threatened, adding that the husband appeared to have “a history of violence”. The woman and her child were safely rescued. The officers killed, gendarmes from France’s military police, were identified as Arno Mavel, 21; Remi Dupuis, 37; and Cyrille Morel, 45. They leave behind widows and a total of four children, Darmanin said.
“Our security forces put their lives at risk to protect us. These are our heroes,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet. The prosecutor for Clermont-Ferrand has announced a press conference on the investigation at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT).
Aside from terror attacks, shootings of police officers in France are rare. Last May, a man fired at police from his house in the Gironde region of southwest France, wounding one officer. As he was about to fire again, he was shot dead by police. The most recent killings of officers in the line of duty, excluding terrorism, occurred in June 2012, when two female officers died in Collobrieres, southern France, while intervening in a dispute between neighbors.
But French security forces say they have increasingly been targeted in recent years as they struggle to carry out Macron’s promise to reduce crime and insecurity. Darmanin said yesterday that 11 police have been killed in the line of duty this year. Among the most high-profile incidents in recent months, two undercover officers were shot during a surveillance operation in a Paris suburb in October, while later that month a station outside Paris was attacked by dozens of people armed with powerful fireworks and steel bars.
The government has promised to increase funding and pass a new “comprehensive security” law to protect officers in the line of duty, a move denounced by critics as an attempt to shield officers from public scrutiny after several reported incidents of police brutality. – AFP