A 39-year-old man was shot and killed by soldiers at Orly Airport outside Paris on Friday morning after he attacked a soldier and attempted to steal her rifle.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the attacker identified as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a French-born national, held a pistol to the soldier’s head and used her as a shield. He reportedly yelled that he wanted to “die for Allah and whatever happens, there will be deaths”
He was a serial offender with 44 offences on his criminal record – his most recent being for armed robbery. The police source initially said the man was a radicalised Muslim who was known to the authorities.
However, later the French Interior Ministry confirmed the man was on a crime watchlist, not a terror watchlist. According to the Paris prosecutor’s office, the 39-year-old had previously been on the authorities’ radar for suspected Islamic extremism.
His house was among many searched in the days after the 2015 Paris suicide attack. Judicial sources say they have arrested Belgacem’s father and brother. The suspect allegedly send his family a text after the first shooting, saying: “I did a bullsh*t, I shot at the police”.
The family are French citizens of Tunisian descent, and believed to be living on a council-run estate in Garges-lès-Gonesse. French interior minister Bruno Le Roux said the man was who had shot a police officer earlier in the day during a routine traffic stop, and hijacked a car.
The female police officer was injured during the road check, while three officers were shot at, a police source told news agency Reuters. He is believed to have stolen two cars to make his getaway – the first was stolen near the road check.
This vehicle was found abandoned at Vitry, containing a bloodied t-shirt. The second was later found abandoned at Orly airport.The man fled into McDonalds at the airport before being shot.
French president Francois Hollande has praised the courage and efficiency of troops and police following the incidents. In a written statement, the President reaffirmed the state’s “determination to act without respite to fight terrorism, defend our compatriots’ security and ensure the protection of the territory.”
He says the Sentinelle operation —about 7,500 troops patrolling on the country’s streets and sensitive sites— has proved useful in addition to police forces.
French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron has also paid tribute to the French troops who have been deployed to secure the streets of France in the wake of a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks, saying the soldiers “have demonstrated one more time calm, control and professionalism.
Terminals at Orly Airport have now reopened. Some flights that landed while the incident unfolded sat on the tarmac for hours; other flights were rerouted to Charles de Gaulle, the largest airport in Paris.