A terrorist known to French authorities for his extremist views was killed at Paris Orly Airport on Saturday after trying to wrestle a gun away from a soldier.
French media has identified the subject as Ziyed Ben Belgacem. He is also suspected of a carjacking in a northern suburb of Paris that occurred about 90 minutes before the airport attack.
Paris prosecutors said the suspect’s house was among scores searched in November 2015 in the immediate aftermath of ISIS-led suicide bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. Those searches targeted people with suspected radical leanings.
The prosecutor’s office said its anti-terrorism division was handling the investigation and had taken the attacker’s father and brother into custody for questioning.
A French official connected to the investigation confirmed French media reports identifying the attacker as Ziyed Ben Belgacem.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the attacker assaulted three Air Force soldiers patrolling the airport. He said the soldier who was attacked managed to hold on to her rifle and the two soldiers she was with opened fire to protect her and the public.
No one else in the busy terminal was hurt, but thousands of travelers were evacuated and flights were diverted to the city’s other airport.
A spokesman for the military force that patrols public sites in France told BFM television the soldier attacked was “shocked” but uninjured after the “very violent aggression” by a man who was quickly shot dead by two of her fellow patrolmen.
French President Francois Hollande ruled out any link between Saturday’s attack and the upcoming French presidential election in April and May, noting that France has been battling the threat of extremism for several years.
He said the attack shows that France’s policy of having military patrols guarding public sites “is essential,” and that the nation “must remain extremely vigilant.”
Belgacem was a French citizen with a long criminal record for drugs and armed robbery. But it was his radical views that put him on a special list of about 10,000 extremists that the French police and military had been watching.
President Francois Hollande said he didn’t think the attempted attack was connected to the French elections that begin next month. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean the election won’t be affected by it. These small-scale attacks—including the attack near the Louvre last month—have the effect of rattling the nerves of voters. Hollande can brag about his “Sentinel” policy that has put 10,000 soldiers on the streets of Paris and other French cities, but they are a constant reminder of the government’s failure to adequately address the problem of radicalization in the Muslim community.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen is making an appearance later today and is expected to have plenty to say about this most recent attack. She is maintaining a razor-thin lead of fewer than two points over En Marche’s Emmanuel Macron, economy minister in President Hollande’s government. Barely hanging on is Francois Fillon at 19%. Fillon was the early front-runner but became enmeshed in a scandal involving public monies being paid to his wife.
Le Pen may benefit from the heightened security after this attack, but needs a very strong showing in the first round of voting next month to have a chance to defeat Macron. The top two vote-getters from the April poll will square off in May for the presidency. While Le Pen may win the initial round, the pro-EU parties would almost certainly coalesce and deny her victory in the second, decisive round.