YELLING that he wanted to kill and die for Allah, a suspected Islamic extremist attacked a French soldier Saturday morning at Paris’ Orly Airport and wrested away her assault rifle, a French prosecutor said. Two colleagues on her patrol shot and killed the man before he could fire the military-grade weapon in the busy airport terminal.
The attack forced the airport’s terminals to shut down and evacuate, sent passengers and workers fleeing in panic and trapped hundreds of others aboard flights that had just landed. It was the violent climax of what authorities described as a 90-minute spree of destructive criminality across the French capital by the suspect, identified as Ziyed Ben Belgacem.
The attack further rattled France, which remains under a state of emergency after attacks over the past two years that have killed 235 people.
Orly, Paris’ second-biggest airport behind Charles de Gaulle, has both domestic and international flights and the 8:30 a.m. assault brought its operations to a screeching halt.
Stopped first by police in Paris’ northern suburbs early Saturday morning for driving too fast and without lights in a small Renault, the 39-year-old Frenchman opened fire with a revolver loaded with bird shot, injuring an officer in the face, authorities said.
He then fled by car to a bar that he frequented regularly and where he had already stopped a few hours earlier and again opened fire. No one was injured.
Finally, in another car stolen at gunpoint, he parked at Orly. A few minutes later, he hurled himself at three soldiers on patrol in its South Terminal, throwing a bag with a gas can at the floor and wielding his 9 mm revolver, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.
Witnesses described panicked bystanders fleeing, flights halting, traffic chaos and planes under lockdowns. Traffic was jammed near the airport and people wheeled suitcases down the road.
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 Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Passengers were allowed off their blocked planes around noon, once a search of the airport was complete, but the airport’s South Terminal did not reopen until late afternoon, authorities said.