Paris airport attacker was a violent jailbird: Prosecutor

A police officer at the attacker's apartment in the multi-ethnic Paris suburb of Garges-les- Gonesse. Officers found cocaine in the residence. Ziyed Ben Belgacem had nine entries on his criminal record and was under judicial monitoring.
A police officer at the attacker's apartment in the multi-ethnic Paris suburb of Garges-les- Gonesse. Officers found cocaine in the residence. Ziyed Ben Belgacem had nine entries on his criminal record and was under judicial monitoring.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Authorities say he showed signs of radicalisation in prison but was not considered a serious threat

PARIS • Frenchman Ziyed Ben Belgacem, who was shot dead by a soldier last Saturday at Paris's Orly airport, was ready "to die for Allah" and had vowed to slay others.

The 39-year-old Paris-born man was killed as he attacked a soldier, grappling with her and trying to steal her assault weapon - ending an hours-long spree of violence.

Ben Belgacem had a string of criminal convictions and showed signs of Islamic radicalisation.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins described him as "an extremely violent individual" harbouring terrorist instincts, and his neighbours said he was a "devil" with a "scary face".

His rap sheet paints a picture of a seasoned criminal used to courts and spells behind bars. He had nine entries on his record, from violence to receiving stolen goods. In 2001, he was sentenced to five years in prison for armed robbery.

This was not his last stint in prison. In 2009, he was handed successive sentences of three and five years for drug trafficking.

While he was in prison, officials noticed "signs of radicalisation", according to the prosecutor, and was known to police but was not considered a serious threat. His house was searched, with no result.

The attacker lived on the sixth floor of a building in the north-eastern Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, in the multi-ethnic Seine-Saint-Denis area. Neighbours described him as a withdrawn, serious man whom nobody really knew. He seemed lonely, they said.

No one had any idea of his spells in prison, although since his most recent release from jail in September last year, he had been under judicial monitoring.

One neighbour, Hamid, said: "The last time I saw him was three days ago. He had a determined air, as if he wanted to fight with his family or colleagues."

Another neighbour, Hatice, said: "Sometimes, we'd meet in the elevator, that's all. He always wore sports clothes. He has a scary face, a real devil."

Officers found several grams of cocaine in the apartment, and he was a regular at an Italian-Cuban bar in the south of Paris, which was known for its rowdy nights, a local said.

It was to this venue that he headed immediately after drawing a gun and firing at officers during a routine traffic inspection earlier on Saturday, slightly injuring one in the head. He then burst into the bar, threatened customers and fired again without injuring anyone.

Telling his relatives by phone that he had been up to some "mischief", he then drove towards what prosecutors described as the "crescendo" of his destructive behaviour, stealing a car and heading towards the airport with a can of petrol and a Quran in his bag.

Flights at Orly, halted for several hours following the morning shooting, began to return to normal yesterday.

Ben Belgacem's father, who was released from police custody yesterday after being questioned, said that his son phoned him minutes after the shooting "in a state of extreme agitation".

"My son was not a terrorist. He never prayed and he drank. This is what happens under the influence of drink and cannabis," the father, who was not named, told France's Europe 1 radio.

"He said to me: 'Daddy, please forgive me. I've screwed up with a police officer.' He then cut short the conversation and drove to the airport, stealing another car en route."

The father had presented himself at a police station, where he was later informed of his son's death.

Ben Belgacem's brother and cousin, who came forward for questioning last Saturday, are still being quizzed by anti-terror investigators.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Paris airport attacker was a violent jailbird: Prosecutor'. Print Edition | Subscribe