PARIS: A man who had been investigated for links to radical Islam was shot dead at Paris’s Orly airport on Saturday after attacking a soldier on patrol and grabbing her rifle.
French investigators are trying to establish whether 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem had planned the attack at the capital’s second-busiest airport or acted on impulse.
– The attacker –
Ben Belgacem, a Frenchman born to Tunisian parents, was known to police and intelligence agencies.
He had been investigated for links to radical Islam and was jailed for five years in 2001 for armed robbery, and again in 2009 for drug dealing.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Ben Belgacem had shown signs in 2011 and 2012 of having radicalised in jail.
Molins said the attacker appeared to have become caught up in a “sort of headlong flight that became more and more destructive”.
— Drink and drugs —
His father insisted on Sunday the assailant was “not a terrorist” and was acting under the influence of drink and drugs.
A judicial source confirmed that “toxicology tests carried out on Sunday showed an alcohol level of 0.93 grams per litre in his blood, and the presence of cannabis and cocaine.”
Investigators released Ben Belgacem’s brother and cousin Sunday after questioning, as police had done the previous day with his father. All three men went to authorities willingly.
At Ben Belgacem’s home in the northeastern Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, officers found a machete and several grams of cocaine.
Neighbours described a reserved man who kept to himself.
– How the attack unfolded –
After spending Friday night in a bar with his cousin, Ben Belgacem was pulled over by police at around 6:55 am (0555 GMT) Saturday while driving in Garges-les-Gonesse. He drew a gun and fired at the officers, slightly injuring one in the head, before fleeing.
Shortly after, he contacted his relatives to tell them he had “done something stupid”, they told police.
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 the bar where he had been the previous night, threatened customers and fired again without injuring anyone.
Shortly after at 8:22 am, according to prosecutor Molins, he walked onto the departures floor of Orly airport’s south terminal where he grabbed a female soldier on patrol with two male colleagues.
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,” Ben Belgacem told the soldiers.
He scuffled with the female soldier, trying to seize 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 8:25 am, Molins said.
No-one else was injured.
A subsequent search found he had brought along a petrol can in a backpack. He also had in his possession a 9mm revolver, 750 euros ($805), a copy of the Koran as well as a packet of cigarettes and a lighter.
Identity documents found on the attacker matched those presented by the man who fired at police in Garges-les-Gonesse.
– Travel chaos –
All flights in and out of Orly airport were suspended following the attack, but by Sunday morning traffic had nearly returned to normal.
A spokesman for the Paris airport authority said that the backlog of travellers stranded by the chaos had been cleared and that passengers were experiencing only “slight delays”.
Around 3,000 passengers were evacuated from the South terminal, while elite police teams secured it and swept it for possible explosives. Those at the western terminal were confined to the building. -AFP