Man known to police and intelligence services as 'radicalized Muslim' shot dead after stealing weapon from soldier at Paris Orly Airport (Update)
Sat, 18 Mar 2017 16:42 UTC
An unidentified man tried to seize a firearm from a French soldier at the airport and shots were fired by the French military in the ensuing altercation.
"The man succeeded in seizing the weapon of a soldier. He was quickly neutralized by the security forces," Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told Reuters.
"We confirm that the man, who tried to seize a weapon from a soldier, has been neutralized," the national police also told RT, adding that it would not disclose any detail immediately.
Aside from the attacker, no other deaths or injuries are reported at the airport.
The man is said to have acted alone. Police sources told Reuters he was known to intelligence services as a radicalized Muslim.
Brandet later confirmed that the same attacker had injured a police officer in the northern Paris suburb of Stains earlier that morning. The shooting occurred after a police patrol had pulled over the man's car for an ID check.
Anti-terrorism prosecutors will probe the incidents. The Interior Ministry says that while terror motives are "possible," it is early to draw conclusions.
The attacker's father and son have been taken into police custody, Reuters reported citing judicial sources.
Around 3,000 people were evacuated from the terminal during the special operation, according to local media.
Bomb disposal units were sent to the site to make sure the attacker did not have a suicide vest. No explosives have been found.
Flights were suspended at both terminals of Paris Orly Airport due to the incident, with some inbound flights diverted to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Orly management said. The terminals resumed work later in the day.
'He was holding woman by her neck with gun in his hand'
Some tweets reported a hostage situation, with several witnesses RT talked to confirming this.
"He was holding the woman by her neck with the police officer's gun in his hand. We understood the seriousness of the situation and fled. Later we heard several shots," a witness told RT outside the airport.
"When we entered the building, it was calm. Then, within several meters, I saw a young man. He took a female officer hostage and an evacuation happened very quickly," another said.
The gunfire sparked panic at the airport, a witness identified as Dominque also told BFM television.
"The soldiers took aim at the man, who in turn pointed the gun he had seized at the two soldiers," he said.
He added that, after snatching the female soldier's weapon, the attacker grabbed her by the neck and threatened two others, before being shot.
Located 13 km south of Paris, Orly Airport was the French capital's primary airline hub before the opening of Charles de Gaulle Airport, and continues to serve some 30 million passengers annually.
It remains France's busiest in terms of domestic flights.
The patrol involved in Saturday's incident is part of the Sentinel special force, which was deployed throughout France in the wake of a string of deadly jihadist attacks. The force has some 7,500 soldiers, of whom roughly half operate in the Paris region
A similar incident occurred at the Louvre last month, when an Egyptian man sustained a gunshot wound after attacking soldiers guarding the museum.
Comment: What is known about the attacker so far:
France 24 are reporting that the man was a 39-year-old French citizen who lived in Garges-les-Gonesse just north of Paris. He was 1.8 meters tall (5' 11") and of average build. He was wearing dark grey pants and a white top.France's Interior Ministry has now confirmed that the assailant at Paris Orly Airport was the same man involved in an incident that had taken place north of Paris earlier:
Le Roux said the attacker, identified in French media as Ziyed B., is also suspected of shooting and injuring a police officer in another part of Paris earlier on Saturday morning.
The suspect had been pulled over for an identification check when he opened fire on police, the minister said, as cited by Reuters. Paris police later confirmed he used a pellet gun.
Le Roux also said the man is suspected of stealing a woman's car at gunpoint after shooting the officer.
A police source told the news agency that the man was on a police watch list for radical Islamic activity.
"This same man - a radicalized Muslim known to intelligence services and the justice system - then took a Famas (assault weapon) from a soldier at Orly's southern terminal... before being shot dead by a soldier," the source said.
The Paris prosecutor's office told France 24 that the assailant had been known to police for robbery and drug offenses. The news outlet also noted that he had "nine unspecified infractions"on his criminal record.
However, Le Monde is reporting that he was not subject to a Fiche 'S' flag, which would single him out as "a serious risk to national security." The Fiche 'S' category is the highest threat level France designates to an individual.
French Interior Minister Bruno le Roux told reporters that the assailant at Paris Orly Airport was the same man involved in an incident that had taken place north of Paris earlier, which left one police officer injured, according to AP.Updates March 19
Le Roux added that the perpetrator, who was not identified, had hijacked a car and held the driver at gunpoint before being stopped by the patrol in Stains because he was driving too fast.
"His identity is known to police and intelligence services," the minister added.
"This same man - a radicalized Muslim known to intelligence services and the justice system - then took a Famas [assault weapon] from a soldier at Orly's southern terminal ... before being shot dead by a soldier," a police source also told Reuters.
The incident in Stains took place early on Saturday morning, when the car was pulled over for an ID check at around 7am local time, BFM TV reports. The driver showed his license before pulling out a weapon and opening fire on the officers.
The police officer's injuries are not life threatening.
Authorities initially did not link it to the incident at Paris Orly Airport, where a man was shot dead after trying to seize a weapon from a soldier on duty.
French authorities are treating the attack as a terrorist incident, and have placed three people in custody. The Paris prosecutor says that the attacker, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, shouted Islamic slogans, before being fatally shot by security staff.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, said that Ben Belgacem, who had a string of theft and drug-related convictions, had been radicalized in prison - a fact that had been noted by the authorities at the time - and was on probation prior to the attack.Most French politicians praised the soldiers who foiled the attack, however Marine Le Pen, confronted the government over its "laxness" in allowing the incident to happen.
The prosecutor said that Ben Belgacem, who had been born in Paris, had been sentenced to five years for robbery with a weapon, for offenses beginning in 1998, and was given a three and a five-year term for drug trafficking.
His house was searched in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in 2015, but he was not placed on the priority File S, reserved for the most dangerous suspects.
"I salute the courage and efficiency of police and military officers who faced the violence of a particularly dangerous individual," tweeted President Francois Hollande, after Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a 39-year-old French citizen with a string of criminal convictions, who assaulted a police officer and then attempted to grab the gun of a soldier inside the airport, was shot dead.France's Europe 1 radio station says it interviewed Ziyed Ben Belgacem's father after he was released from police detention. The father said his son had never been a religious radical:
Emmanuel Macron, commended the "professionalism" of the soldiers, and used the opportunity to announce that he would return some form of compulsory military service to the country, "to make our democracy more united and increase our collective resilience."
While National Front leader Marine Le Pen also paid tribute to those who confronted Ben Belgacem — who reportedly pointed the gun he grabbed at the soldiers who faced him — but was scathing on the center-left government.
"France is overwhelmed by violence, the consequence of the laxity of successive governments," tweeted the politician, who, according to the polls, is expected to win the first round in April's election, before losing to a more centrist candidate in the run-off.
Observers noted that while unsuccessful, the incident fits into the wider pattern of attacks, most notorious of them being the armed assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and the deadly truck attack in Nice last year.
"He called me at seven, eight in the morning," the father, whose name is not provided, said. "He was extremely distressed, even his mother couldn't understand it."UPDATE March 20 from RT: A surveillance video was released showing the attacker dropping a shopping bag - which authorities say contained a flask of gasoline - before grabbing the soldier around the shoulders, pulling her backward while holding a revolver loaded with birdshot. He can be seen trying to wrestle away the soldier's assault rifle.
"He told me, 'I ask for your forgiveness. I've screwed up with a cop,'" he added.
Belgacem's father also said that his son had never been a religious radical or a terrorist, but could have instead carried out the attack at the Paris Orly Airport under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"My son was never a terrorist. He would never pray. He drank. And under the effects of alcohol and cannabis, this is where one ends up," he said. French officials said that an autopsy is to be conducted to determine whether the attacker was drunk or high on drugs at the moment of the attack.