PARIS • Security forces shot dead a man who seized a soldier's gun at Paris Orly airport in France yesterday, less than two hours after the same man shot and wounded a police officer during a routine check, the Interior Ministry said.
The incident triggered a major security scare that shut down the airport and left thousands of travellers stranded. It took place at around 8.30am local time (3.30pm Singapore time) in the Orly-Sud terminal at the smaller of Paris' two international airports, located south of the capital.
The man, identified as Ziyed Ben Belgacem in media reports, 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.
Mr Benoit Brulon, a spokesman for France's anti-terror patrol force, said of the female soldier: "She's doing fine."
Mr Brulon, speaking on BFMTV, said that the female soldier 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," Mr Brandet told reporters.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said that the slain man had been linked to an earlier attack on police during a routine traffic inspection in the northern suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse at around 7am, in which an officer was slightly wounded in the head.
He then continued south to steal another car in the suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine about 10km from Orly airport. In Vitry, he also "burst into a bar and threatened those present", Mr Le Roux said.
The Journal du Dimanche said that the suspect, a 39-year-old French citizen, was known for robbery and drug trafficking. His home was searched in 2015, the paper reported. A police source described him as a radicalised Muslim.
The anti-terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation.
BFMTV, without giving a source, said the attacker had texted his father, saying: "I've screwed up. I've shot a policeman."
Police also searched his house in Garges-les-Gonesse, in the multiethnic Seine-Saint-Denis area.
A witness to the events at the airport told BFMTV that he saw the man in possession of the soldier's rifle and threatening her. "The soldiers were trying to reason with him," he said, adding that as he fled the scene he heard two shots.
Mr Franck Lecam, a traveller bound for Tel Aviv, said that he heard "three or four shots" nearby as he was queuing to check in.
"There are policemen, emergency workers and soldiers everywhere," he said, after being forced to evacuate the terminal with around 3,000 others.
Air traffic to Orly was suspended and all incoming flights rerouted to Charles de Gaulle airport, in the north of Paris.
Several planes that were preparing for take-off or had just landed in Orly were grounded on the tarmac while the security operation unfolded. Passengers in the nearby Orly-Ouest terminal were confined in the building.
Elite police teams intervened quickly to secure the airport and search it for possible explosives, but none were found.
By early afternoon, Orly-Ouest had reopened and flights had started to resume. Orly-Sud had reopened to incoming flights, but outgoing flights were still suspended.
The incidents come five weeks before France holds presidential elections, and on the second day of an official visit to Paris by Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST, XINHUA