The gunman launched his first attack after being stopped for speeding at a road check north of the city early this morning, shooting a policewoman in the head.
He then held up a woman motorist at gunpoint, stealing her car and driving to Orly airport.
According to eyewitnesses, the suspect had at least one hostage and was threatening to kill other soldiers during the confrontation.
The police officer in the earlier incident was shot in the head with a steel-pellet gun rather than a firearm, according to France’s interior minister. CNN also reports that police began an “operation” in the Paris suburb where that shooting took place, but did not explain what they expected to find, and confirmed that the suspect had been on their radar screen for a number of reasons:
Hours after the airport incident, police launched an operation in the same northern Paris suburb where the officer was shot, the National Police tweeted. The agency did not specify the reason for the operation, which was underway at 3:25 p.m. local time (10:25 a.m. ET).
The officer injured at the traffic stop is undergoing treatment but is not seriously injured, Le Roux said. No one else was hurt in the airport incident, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.
The anti-terror prosecutor has opened an investigation, Thibault-Lecuivre said. Police were questioning the man’s father and brother, Thibault-Lecuivre said. The attacker, who was born in 1978, had been known to police for nine instances of armed robbery and drug trafficking, she added.
He also had been known to intelligence services, Le Roux said.
The attempt to steal the weapon from the Operation Sentinelle security force at Orly demonstrates that they have been effective at keeping weapons out of the airport. Had the suspect taken the weapon, he could have conducted a short but deadly shooting spree. Instead he wound up only injuring a few people before getting himself killed, a far better outcome than one would fear. It’s the second time that Sentinelle forces have foiled a broader terror attack since the operation launched after the Charlie Hebdo massacres, the other being at the Louvre.
Both of these foiled attacks have been single-person attempts rather than a coordinated attack such as seen in Paris and Brussels. Some lone-wolf attacks have succeeded in Nice and Normandy, but not against more hardened targets. French security forces have done well to protect the obvious targets for terror, but the continuing attacks show that the capacity for terrorism has not abated yet — and this success may push terrorists more toward the softer targets in the future.
Update: This certainly removes doubt about the motive:
A man holding a gun on a French female soldier at a Orly Airport shouted, “I am here to die for Allah. There will be deaths,” before two of the soldier’s comrades shot the attacker dead Saturday morning, a prosecutor told reporters. The attacker was identified as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, who authorities believe was radicalized in 2011 or 2012, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters.