PARIS — A man who tried to seize a soldier’s gun at Paris Orly Airport was involved just hours earlier in a carjacking and another shooting at a traffic stop, French authorities said Saturday.
Security forces opened fire, killing the man during the morning attack at the airport.
About 90 minutes before the airport incident, the attacker had shot an officer after being asked for ID at a police checkpoint north of Paris, then had fled, Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said at a news conference.
The attacker later carjacked a vehicle south of Paris before making his way to the airport, Paris prosecutor’s spokeswoman Agnès Thibault-Lecuivre told CNN.
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.
Attacker tried to tackle soldier
At the airport, the attacker tried to tackle a female soldier and take her weapon, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. He was shot dead by two other soldier who were on patrol with her.
They responded with “remarkable professionalism and self-control” to protect their colleague and the public, he said.
This was the fourth attack against security forces deployed as part of France’s Operation Sentinel, Le Drian said. The national security operation was launched following the Paris terror attacks in January 2015.
Le Roux also praised the swift response of security forces at the airport.
The traffic stop where the attacker’s identity papers were checked was in Garges-lès-Gonesse, north of Paris, Thibault-Lecuivre said. The man later stole another vehicle at gunpoint in Vitry-sur-Seine, she said, on the southern outskirts of Paris near the airport.
The Interior Ministry tweeted that whether the attack was terrorist in nature would be established by the judicial authorities.
“The individual was known to the police and judicial services. There is therefore ‘possibly’ a terrorist motivation for this act,” it said.
President François Hollande said France was determined to “act tirelessly to fight terrorism, defend the security of our countrymen and ensure the protection of our territory,” according to an Elysee Palace statement.
Hollande praised “the courage and efficiency” of the police and military. The anti-terrorism prosecutor is investigating the motives and circumstances of the attack and the existence of any accomplices, the statement added.
Politicians praise response
France’s presidential candidates, who are campaigning ahead of next month’s first round of voting, took to Twitter to pay tribute to the response by the police and the military.
Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, said the military “once again showed their professionalism this morning in Orly.”
François Fillon, of the centre-right Republican party, said: “Tribute to the men and women of Sentinel who work for our security and once again displayed courage and efficiency.”
Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate for the far-right Front National party, said: “France brimming over with violence, a consequence of the lax successive governments. But there is the bravery of our soldiers!”
Bomb squad called in
The airport was evacuated as an elite operations unit and bomb squad officers rushed to the scene. The bomb squad finished its search for explosives, local authorities said.
Air traffic at both Orly South and Orly West remained suspended, the president of Paris Airports Augustin de Romanet said, adding that he discouraged people from coming to the airport. Some flights were rerouted to Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport.
Travel for about 2,000 people was severely disrupted, De Romanet told CNN, adding that he hoped the Orly South terminal would reopen by late afternoon.
“It has been very disruptive, because we could fear many, many things, but all the police forces and the army have been very effective, so everything is OK now,” he said.
The police also urged the public to avoid the airport, follow instructions and not to cross the security perimeter.
With roads around the airport closed off, some travelers earlier tried to make their way to the airport on foot with their baggage.
Paris Orly Airport is France’s second-busiest airport, with international and domestic air traffic.