Paris airport shooting: Official says attacker yelled "there will be deaths"

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference Saturday that the man who attacked a soldier and was killed by her colleagues at Orly Airport yelled that he wanted to die in the name of Allah and “whatever happens, there will be deaths.”

Molins said the attacker held a pistol to the soldier’s head on Saturday morning, used her as a shield and succeeded in a struggle to wrest away her powerful military-grade assault rifle. He said the attacker apparently wanted to use it to shoot people in the busy Paris airport.

He says the attacker, identified by Molins as French-born Ziyed Ben Belgacem, also carried a container of gasoline that he tossed to the ground. A Quran was among the items later found on his body.

Molins said the French-born 39-year-old was flagged for suspected radicalism during a previous spell in prison.

A cousin of Belgacem’s is in custody after presenting himself to police, Molins said. The attacker’s father and brother are also in police custody for questioning - standard operating procedure in such cases.

The melee forced the airport’s busy terminals to close and evacuate and trapped hundreds of passengers aboard flights that had just landed.

Belgacem first fired bird shot at police officers during an early morning traffic stop before speeding away and heading for the airport south of Paris, authorities said.

There, in the public area of its South Terminal, the man wrestled the soldier who was on foot patrol. The French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the patrol’s other two members opened fire.

“Her two comrades thought it was necessary - and they were right - to open fire to protect her and especially to protect all the people who were around,” Le Drian said.

The attack further rattled France, which remains under a state of emergency after attacks over the past two years that have killed 235 people.

The shooting comes after a similar incident last month at the Louvre Museum in which an Egyptian man attacked soldiers guarding the site and was shot and wounded. It also comes just days before the first anniversary of attacks on the Brussels airport and subway that killed 32 people and wounded hundreds of others.

CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti reports there was increased security in Paris for Prince William and his wife, Kate, who were visiting the city. The trip was William’s first official visit to the French capital since his mother, Princess Diana, died there in 1997.

Witnesses described panicked bystanders fleeing, flights halting, traffic chaos and planes under lockdowns. French authorities, however, stressed that security planning - reinforced across the country in the wake of repeated attacks - worked well.

The soldier was “psychologically shocked” but unhurt by the “rapid and violent” assault, said Col. Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for the military force that patrols public sites in France. No other injuries were reported.

“We’d already registered our bags when we saw a soldier pointing his gun at the attacker who was holding another soldier hostage,” said Pascal Menniti, who was flying to the Dominican Republic.

Authorities said at least 3,000 people were evacuated from the airport. Hundreds of passengers also were confined for several hours aboard 13 flights that were blocked in landing areas, and 15 other flights were diverted to Paris’ other main airport, Charles de Gaulle, the Paris airport authority said.

The attacker’s motives were unknown. The anti-terrorism section of the Paris prosecutors’ office immediately took over the investigation. The prosecutors’ office said the attacker had a record of robbery and drug offenses.

He did not appear in a French government database of people considered potential threats to national security. But prosecutors said he had already crossed authorities’ radar for suspected Islamic extremism. His house was among scores searched in November 2015 in the immediate aftermath of suicide bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. Those searches targeted people with suspected radical leanings.

French President Francois Hollande said investigators will determine whether the attacker “had a terrorist plot behind him.” He ruled out any link between the attack and the upcoming two-round French presidential election in April and May, noting that France has been battling extremist threats for years.

About 90 minutes before the airport attack at 8:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. EDT), the man was first stopped by a police patrol in northern Paris because he was driving too fast, police said. As he was showing his ID papers, the man pulled out a gun and fired bird shot at the three officers, injuring one of them in the face, police said.

Police fired back. The man fled in his car. That traffic stop at 6:50 a.m. was at Garges-les-Gonesse, north of Paris near Le Bourget airport. The man later abandoned that vehicle at Vitry, south of Paris, and stole another at gunpoint, police said. That car was later found at Orly Airport.

Orly is Paris’ second-biggest airport, behind Charles de Gaulle. It has both domestic and international flights, notably to destinations in Europe and Africa. The attack brought airport operations to a screeching halt.

Traffic was jammed near the airport and people wheeled suitcases down the road. Augustin de Romanet, president of the ADP airport authority, said passengers who were prevented from disembarking from flights were allowed off around noon, once a search of the airport was complete.

The airport’s South Terminal did not reopen until late afternoon.

A witness identified only as Dominque told BFM Television that the attacker held the soldier by the throat and held her arm and her weapon.

“We saw it was a serious situation, so we escaped,” he said. “We went down the stairs and right after we heard two gunshots.”

Taxi driver Youssef Mouhajra was picking up passengers at Orly when he heard shots, which he first thought were just a warning.

“We have become accustomed to this kind of warning, and to having the soldiers there,” he told The Associated Press.

Then he saw people fleeing the terminal.

“I told (the passengers) let’s get out of here,” he said. As he drove away, he saw soldiers and police rushing toward the airport.

The military patrol was part of France’s Sentinelle operation to protect sensitive sites after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks. The operation uses 7,500 service members, half deployed in the Paris region and half in the provinces.

Saturday was at least the fourth time that Sentinelle service members have been targeted since it started. It was set up after the deadly attack in January 2015 on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and reinforced after the assaults that left 130 people dead in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015.

Travelers wait outside the Orly airport, south of Paris, March 18, 2017. AP PHOTO/THIBAULT CAMUS

Gunman Is Killed in Orly Airport in France After Attacking a Soldier

PARIS — An attack on a soldier at Orly Airport near here on Saturday is being treated as a possible act of terrorism, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. The assailant, the prosecutor said, had carried out a burst of violence over a period of two hours before being fatally shot.

The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said the motives of the assailant — identified as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem — were unknown. But the prosecutor added that Mr. Belgacem had a lengthy police record, including arrests for robbery and drug-related offenses, and had served time in prison. He was known to the authorities, Mr. Molins said, but primarily as a criminal.

The shooting at Orly prompted a partial evacuation of the airport, the diversion of all flights and a security sweep to determine whether the assailant had left any explosives at the airport’s two terminals, officials said. Incoming flights were diverted to nearby Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The chain of events began when Mr. Belgacem was stopped by the police at 6:55 a.m. in the Paris suburb of Garges-lès-Gonesse, after he was spotted driving at a high speed with his headlights off, Mr. Molins said at a news conference on Saturday evening.

After he pulled over, Mr. Belgacem fired a pistol loaded with birdshot and fled. One police officer was slightly injured.

Mr. Belgacem then drove to a bar in Vitry-sur-Seine, where he fired his gun again but did not injure anyone. When he exited the bar, he left his cellphone there.

He fled in his car, but abandoned it a few miles away. He then carjacked another vehicle and drove about eight miles to the airport.

There he spotted a three-soldier unit patrolling the airport, Mr. Molins said. At 8:22 a.m., Mr. Belgacem, carrying his pistol, tossed a container of gasoline on the floor. He grabbed one of the soldiers and held his gun to her head.

Mr. Molins said the soldiers reported that he yelled: “I’m here to die in the name of Allah. Whatever happens, people are going to die.”

As Mr. Belgacem grappled with the soldier, he wrested her rifle from her. At that instant, the two other soldiers fired three bursts from their weapons, killing him.

Mr. Molins said the antiterrorism unit of the prosecutor’s office and the French Intelligence Service had opened an investigation.

Mr. Belgacem was carrying cigarettes, 750 euros in cash, or about $800, a lighter and a Quran at the time of the attack, Mr. Molins said. Cocaine, a machete and some foreign currency were later found at his home.

Mr. Belgacem’s brother, father and cousin were questioned by the police, Mr. Molins said.

While in prison during 2011 and 2012, Mr. Belgacem was identified by intelligence officials as someone who had become radicalized. After his release, he remained on the authorities’ radar, and his house was searched in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Mr. Molins said, although no action was taken against him.

The episode at Orly was reminiscent of an attack in February near the Louvre in which a man with two long knives attacked soldiers patrolling in the Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall. The man injured a soldier before being shot several times.

The attack on Saturday came amid a heated presidential election campaign in France, with the first round of voting to take place on April 23.

Any terrorist attack so close to the election, political analysts suggest, could be an opportunity by the candidates of the far right, Marine Le Pen, and the center right, François Fillon, to berate the current Socialist government and by association Emmanuel Macron, the center-left candidate, who was previously the economy minister, for failing to protect the French people.

While both Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Fillon posted Twitter messages about Saturday’s attack, they used the episode primarily as an opportunity to praise French soldiers and, in Ms. Le Pen’s case, to underscore some of her campaign themes. She said in her post: “Violence has overwhelmed France, a consequence of the laxity of successive governments. But there is the courage of our soldiers.”

Mr. Fillon limited his Twitter message to praise the “women and men” of what is known as Operation Sentinel, the soldiers who “work for our security and have once again proved their courage and efficiency.”

The unit attacked at the airport was part of Operation Sentinel, whose 7,000 soldiers patrol public areas, including airports, tourist attractions and train stations.

The west terminal at Orly reopened by 1 p.m., the Paris airport authority said. Flights gradually resumed at the south terminal, where the attack took place.

French police release father of Orly Airport attacker

PARIS (AP) — French police have released the father of the Orly Airport attacker who was shot and killed while taking a soldier hostage.

The Paris prosecutor's office, which took charge of the probe after the Saturday morning attack, says the brother and a cousin of the suspect, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, remain in custody. The father was released overnight.

The office says an autopsy Sunday of the attacker's body will include drawing blood for drug and alcohol tests.

Prosecutors say Belgacem attacked a soldier at Paris' Orly Airport and wrested away her assault rifle. Her two colleagues shot and killed him before he could fire the military-grade weapon at the busy airport.

The attack forced Orly to shut down, sent passengers fleeing in panic and trapped hundreds aboard flights that had just landed.

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