Paris, France: In an amateur video that was widely circulated online after the shooting Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris, two gunmen could be seen killing a police officer as he lay wounded on the ground.
"We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!" they shouted as they walked back to their getaway car parked nearby. "We have killed Charlie Hebdo!"
The officer, Ahmed Merabet, was the second police officer to be killed that day; another officer assigned to protect Charlie Hebdo's editorial director was also killed. On Thursday, a third police officer was killed in a seemingly unrelated shooting south of Paris in another blow to the police forces here.
But the killing of Merabet stood out: The #JeSuisAhmed hashtag - "I am Ahmed" in French - sprang up on social media alongside #JeSuisCharlie, as users of social media stood up for the slain Merabet.
Speculation that Merabet was Muslim spread quickly on social media, where users praised him as a hero and, in some cases, a potent symbol in the debate about free speech and religious tolerance.
Some Twitter users wrote that Merabet had died defending a newspaper that was accused of insulting his faith; and one user posted a quotation attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Other commenters online echoed the #notinmyname social media campaign against the Islamic State. "One mustn't forget that Muslims are the first victims of terrorism," said one Twitter post in French.
"He was killed in a cowardly way by people who had misinterpreted their sacred text," said Christophe Crépin, a spokesman for one of France's police unions. "Yet he himself was from an immigrant background."
Merabet, 40, was an officer at the police precinct in Paris' 11th Arrondissement, according to Rocco Contento, an official with another police union, who knew Merabet.
"He was a nice person, very likable, always with a smile and very professional," Contento said. "His colleagues are all very shocked by what happened."
Contento said Merabet, whose parents were from North Africa, lived in a suburb north of Paris with a large immigrant community, was unmarried and had no children, but he could not confirm whether or not Merabet was a practicing Muslim.
"The family wishes to keep as much discretion as possible," said Loic Lecouplier, an official with another police union. Police officials at the Paris prefecture and the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the officers who were killed.
Most of the 12 people killed in the attack on Wednesday worked at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly that lampooned everything and everyone, including Islam. Among the dead were four cartoonists: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut, Bernard Verlhac and Stéphane Charbonnier, the newspaper's editorial director.
Franck Brinsolaro was the police officer in charge of guarding Charbonnier, who had received protection since 2011, when the weekly was attacked for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Crépin said Brinsolaro fired two shots before the attackers gunned him down.
Brinsolaro had two children, according to the regional newspaper L'Eveil Normand, which said on its website that its editor in chief, Ingrid Brinsolaro, was his wife.
On Thursday morning, a female officer was shot and killed in what appeared to be an unrelated attack in Montrouge, a southern suburb of Paris, according to the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, who spoke to reporters at the scene after rushing out of a Cabinet meeting. The killer was still at large, Cazeneuve said. The authorities have opened another terrorism investigation into the shooting.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls praised the officer in a Twitter post sent out Thursday evening.
"The municipal policewoman who was killed this morning honors the nation," he wrote.
The owner of a brasserie near Merabet's precinct in Paris told the French weekly Paris Match on Thursday that he was jovial person, but he sometimes felt demoralized by the way policemen are treated in France.
"We don't pay tribute to police officers enough," she said. "We don't hear anything about him, and yet the thugs, they are in all the newspapers."
© 2015, The New York Times News Service