Three French police shot dead by domestic violence suspect

Gunman also found dead after shooting officers and setting fire to house

Three police officers were killed and a fourth wounded in central France on Wednesday by a gunman they confronted in response to a domestic violence call.

The suspect, a 48-year-old man known to authorities for child custody disputes, was found dead hours after fleeing a home in an isolated hamlet near Saint-Just, a village of 160 people south of Clermont-Ferrand, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Mr Darmanin, who said he was heading to the scene, gave no further details on how the man died. However, a ministry source said the suspect "was found dead in his vehicle, apparently a suicide".

The man opened fire at two police officers who arrived at the house shortly after midnight after a domestic assault was reported. One was killed instantly and the other shot in the thigh before the gunman set fire to the house, where a woman had climbed onto the roof.

Police reinforcements and firefighters rushed to the scene, and all roads leading to the house were blocked off.

Another two police officers were killed by the gunman, who had barricaded himself in the house and appeared to be heavily armed, prosecutors said. The woman was rescued and is being questioned by police.

The officers killed – Arno Mavel, 21; Remi Dupuis, 37; and Cyrille Morel, 45 –were gendarmes from the French military police, which often enforces law in rural areas.

"Our security forces put their lives at risk to protect us. These are our heroes," President Emmanuel Macron said.

Aside from terrorist attacks, shootings of police officers in France are relatively rare. Last May, a man fired at police from his house in the Gironde region of the south-west, wounding one officer before being shot dead by police.

Puy-de-Dome. Courtesy Bing maps

In June 2012, two female officers died in Collobrieres, southern France, while intervening in a dispute between neighbours. French security forces say they are being targeted increasingly as they endeavour to carry out Mr Macron's promise to reduce crime.

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.