PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) – Security forces shot dead a man who seized a soldier’s gun at Paris Orly airport on Saturday (March 18) and a police officer was shot and injured in a separate incident north of the French capital, the French Interior Ministry said.
Witnesses said the airport was evacuated following the shooting at around 8.30am (3.30pm Singapore).
The man had tried to snatch a gun from a female soldier “in an extremely violent attack” on her before he was shot dead, a French army spokesman said.
Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for France’s anti-terror patrol force, said of the female soldier: “She’s doing fine”.
Brulon, speaking on BFMTV, said the female soldier, who was part of an air force detachment, fell to the ground as she struggled with her attacker.
“It was then that her comrades opened fire to protect her and people around,” he said.
Separately, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said it was “possible” but had yet to be established that the incident could be called a terrorist attack. “There’s possibly a terrorist motive but that’s something the justice system will have to ascertain and it will do so in due time,” Brandet told reporters.
The father and brother of the man killed have been taken into police custody, a judicial source said. The source said the move was a routine one in such circumstances.
A bomb sweep took place at the airport to make sure the dead man was not wearing an explosive belt, but nothing was found, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told Reuters.
“The man succeeded in seizing the weapon of a soldier. He was quickly neutralised by the security forces,” Brandet said.
No one was injured in the incident, he said.
A police officer was also injured after being shot during a routine road check in an earlier incident in Stains, north of Paris.
Brandet said it was not clear if the two incidents were linked. But a police source said the man in both incidents was the same individual.
BFM and M6 television networks had also said it was the same man.
The police source said the man was a radicalised Muslim known to authorities. “A police road check took place in Stains (northern Paris) this morning at 0700. It turned bad and the individual shot at the officers before fleeing,” one police source said. “This same man – a radicalised 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.”
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor opened an investigation after the incident, an official at the prosecutor’s office said. The investigation will also cover the earlier incident, the official said.
The two incidents come weeks before France holds presidential elections. The country remains on high alert after attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants killed scores of people in the last two years and a state of emergency is in place until at least the end of July.
The soldier from whom the man took the weapon was a part of Operation Sentinelle, deployed after the January 2015 Paris attacks.
“We had queued up to check in for the Tel Aviv flight when we heard three or four shots nearby,” witness Franck Lecam said. “The whole airport has been evacuated,” the 54-year-old said, confirming what an airport worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said earlier.
“We are all outside the airport, about 200m from the entrance,” Lecam said. “There are policemen, emergency workers and soldiers everywhere in all directions. A security official told us that it happened near gates 37-38 where Turkish Airlines flights were scheduled.”
Around 3,000 passengers were evacuated from the airport, the second busiest in the country. Flights were suspended from both terminals of the airport and some flights were diverted to Charles de Gaulle airport north of the capital, airport operator ADP said.
A notice was posted on the Paris airports authority website urging passengers not to travel to Orly.
Budget airlines easyJet said in a statement that “like all other airlines” it expected interruptions and flight delays, adding that 46 of its flights were due to fly in and out of the airport on Saturday.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux is due to visit the airport, which is located in Paris’ southern outskirts, a ministry spokesman said.
On Thursday, a letter bomb exploded at the Paris offices of the International Monetary Fund, injuring a secretary who suffered burns to her hands and face.
French President Francois Hollande called it an “attack”, saying it showed the country was “still targeted”. “All this leads me to justify the state of emergency” that has been in effect since November 2015, Hollande said.