Breaking News Emails
PARIS — A man was shot dead in Paris Orly Airport after seizing a soldier's weapon and holding her hostage on Saturday in what was being investigated as a possible attempted terror attack, French officials said.
At around 8:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET), the suspect — later identified by prosecutors as Paris-born Ziyed Ben Belgacem — "removed a soldier's weapon, then sought refuge in an airport shop nearby before being shot by the security forces," Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told a local radio station.
The potential attacker did not have time to exchange fire with soldiers or police and was "neutralized quickly," Brandet added. Earlier, officials said the man only tried to grab the weapon.
Paris prosecutors told reporters that Belgacem informed soldiers he wanted to die in the name of Allah.
"According to the soldiers' first testimonies he said and I quote: 'Put down your weapons, hands on your head. I am here to die for Allah, in any case there are going to be deaths,'" Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said at a news conference.
Belgacem had been radicalized in prison, the prosecutor said, and Paris law enforcement were investigating his motives and searching his phone for contacts.
The incident began when Belgacem allegedly struck a police officer with a pellet gun at a checkpoint in Garges-lès-Gonesse, a northern suburb of Paris, and then shot at customers of a suburban Paris cafe with the same weapon. No one was injured at the cafe.
According to the prosecutor's office, the suspect then stole a car and drove to Orly Airport where he took a female soldier hostage with his pellet gun. He then wrestled her assault weapon away from her. When she fell to her knees, fellow soldiers took the clear shot at Belgacem, prosecutors said.
The incident at the airport lasted about two minutes, officials added.
A judicial source at the Paris Prosecutor's office told NBC News that anti-terror officers had opened an investigation into the airport shooting, as well as the earlier one in Garges-lès-Gonesse. Intelligence services were involved with the investigation, added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
French President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement that the government would "act relentlessly to fight terrorism, to defend the security of our compatriots and to ensure the protection of the territory."
"Vigilance would be maintained at its highest level," the statement added.
France has been under a state of emergency since a series of deadly terror attacks about a year-and-a-half ago, and this latest incident to put the nation on edge comes only a month before elections between the party system establishment, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron and the far-right National Front's Marine Le Pen.
Security officers who checked the suspect's body did not find an explosives belt or other weapons, according to the Interior Ministry.
Thousands of people were being evacuated and flights redirected. The terminal at Orly, which is south of the French capital, later resumed activity.
Passengers earlier described scenes of panic and chaos after the suspect grabbed a weapon from a soldier who was patrolling the area.
A witness identified only as Dominique told BFM television that "soldiers took aim at the man, who in turn pointed the gun he had seized at the two soldiers."
An unnamed witness told the television station that three soldiers were targeted, and then tried to calm the man who seized the weapon. Then the witness said he heard two gunshots.
Trios of heavily armed soldiers are a frequent sight in Paris, which has been on edge since Nov. 13, 2015, when a group of ISIS-directed jihadis killed 130 people in coordinated strikes across the city.
On July 14, a truck plowed into pedestrians during Bastille Day celebrations in the seaside resort of Nice, killing 80.
On Thursday, a letter bomb exploded at the central Paris offices of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), injuring an assistant who opened it.