PARIS: A man who had been investigated for links to radical Islam was shot dead at Paris' Orly airport on Saturday (Mar 18) after attacking a soldier on patrol and grabbing her rifle.
Prosecutors say the same man shot at police earlier in the day, leaving an officer with minor wounds after being pulled over while driving in a suburb north of the French capital.
Officials have named him as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a 39-year-old Frenchman who was known to police and intelligence agencies.
Born in Paris, he had a string of criminal convictions for armed robbery, drug dealing, violence and receiving stolen goods. He was jailed for five years in 2001 for armed robbery, and again in 2009 for drug dealing.
Police officers investigate at the house of the suspect of an attack at the Paris Orly's airport, on Mar 18, 2017 in Garges-les-Gonesse. (Photo: AFP / THOMAS SAMSON)
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Ben Belgacem had shown signs in 2011 and 2012 of having radicalised in jail. His home was searched in 2015 on suspicion of links to radical Islam, but no incriminating evidence was found.
The man's father, brother and cousin were detained for questioning Saturday, according to Molins, all of them having approached police themselves.
Police also searched Ben Belgacem's home in the northeastern Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, in the multi-ethnic Seine-Saint-Denis area. Officers found a machete and several grams of cocaine in the apartment.
Neighbours described a reserved man who kept himself to himself.
HOW THE ATTACK UNFOLDED
Ben Belgacem was pulled over by police at around 6:55am (0555 GMT) Saturday while driving in Garges-les-Gonesse. He drew a gun and fired shots at the officers, slightly injuring one in the head, before fleeing.
He then continued south to steal another car in the suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Orly airport. In Vitry, he also burst into a bar where he was a regular, threatened customers and fired again without injuring anyone.
Shortly after at 8.22am (0722 GMT), according to prosecutor Molins, he walked onto the departures floor of Orly airport's south terminal where he grabbed a female officer on patrol with two male colleagues.
Emergency services arrive at Orly airport southern terminal after a shooting incident near Paris, France on Mar 18, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
Positioning her as a shield, he pointed his revolver to her temple, Molins told a press conference. "Put your weapons down, hands on your heads. I'm here to die for Allah. In any case people are going to die," he told the soldiers.
He scuffled with the female soldier, trying to take her assault rifle and succeeding after a couple of attempts. She then dropped to her knees, giving her colleagues the opportunity to shoot at him. He tried again to use her as a shield, but a third shot killed him at 8.25am, Molins said.
A subsequent search found he had brought along a petrol can in a backpack. He also had in his possession a 9mm revolver, €750 (US$805), a copy of the Quran as well as a packet of cigarettes and a lighter.
No-one else was injured in the melee. Identity documents found on the attacker matched those presented by the man who fired at police in Garges-les-Gonesse.
All flights in and out of Orly airport were suspended Saturday morning.
Around 3,000 passengers were evacuated from the southern terminal where the attack took place, while elite police teams secured it and swept it for possible explosives. Those at the western terminal were confined to the building.
Paris airports chief Eric Heraud said a total of 178 flights had been cancelled - about a third of those due to arrive or depart from Orly on Saturday - with some diverted to the bigger Charles de Gaulle airport to the north of Paris.
"Between 5,000 and 6,000 passengers were affected," Heraud said. Flights were running again by the early afternoon.