French President Emmanuel Macron led a national ceremony paying tribute to a heroic policeman who died after swapping with a female hostage during a jihadist attack.

Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was was killed with three others in the shooting spree last week in the southwestern towns of Carcassonne and nearby Trebes, the Daily Telegraph reports.

"His greatness has stunned France," Macron told family members, hundreds of dignitaries and "brothers in arms" at a solemn ceremony at Paris' Invalides near Napoleon's tomb. "The intolerable can never win the day," said the president.

His act was the epitome of France's "spirit of resistance" against Islamist barbarity, he added.


"To accept to die so the innocent can live: That is the essence of what it means to be a soldier," he said. "Others, even many who are brave, would have wavered or hesitated."

Beltrame who had been part of an elite unit, had taken the place of a female employee held as a final hostage in a supermarket by 25-year-old gunman Radouane Lakdim, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Macron posthumously made the slain gendarme the commander of the Legion of Honour. The President placed France's highest award on Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame's coffin draped in the French flag with his military cap laid upon it.

France has lost more than 240 lives to jihadists over the past three years, but this attack was the country's worst since Macron became president last May.

Earlier, police stations paused for a minute's silence.

The Islamist assailant had also shot dead the passenger of a car he hijacked in Carcassonne and two people in the supermarket he had besieged in Trebes.

Beltrame took the place of the woman Lakdim was using as a human shield, but the Islamist shot the gendarme and slit his throat, leading police to intervene and shoot the attacker dead.

According to Le Parisien, it appears Beltrame may have died after trying to disarm the assailant, who may have used his own weapon against him.

Macron said the gunman's disregard for human life mirrored that of the murderer of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year old Holocaust survivor found dead in her Paris flat last Friday.

Two men have been charged with her killing, which investigators are treating as anti-Semitic.

The pair attacked "an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish and who thus profaned our sacred values and our memory," said Macron.

A solemn march will be held this morning NZT in memory, but the event was hit with controversy after France's main Jewish umbrella group, Crif, said far-left and right leaders were not welcome. Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon say they will attend regardless, while the victim's son said it was wrong to ban people.

Soldiers carry the coffin of Arnaud Beltrame. Photo / AP
Soldiers carry the coffin of Arnaud Beltrame. Photo / AP

Macron's Government has come under fire from right-wing opponents who claim that the attack could have been prevented.

Lakdim had been on a list of suspected extremists since 2014 and was being monitored.

He had been summoned by anti-terror police for questioning this month, but Gérard Collomb, the Interior Minister confirmed today that agents had decided to lower surveillance a notch before the attack.

He said "ultimately no one thought that there would be a hasty attack" by Lakdim, a Moroccan-born French resident with dual nationality. How could they know he would act hours after taking a child to school, he asked.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused the Government of exploiting the grief over Beltrame to "escape from its own incompetence and cowardice" in failing to tackle Islamic extremism.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe hit back at the criticism yesterday, telling Parliament: "Those who say ignorantly that this attack could have been avoided, those who promise people zero risk - I say to them, these people bear a heavy responsibility in speaking so casually."