An unidentified man has been shot and killed at Paris’ Orly Airport after wrestling a soldier to the ground and attempting to take her rifle on Saturday morning. According to a report from The Globe And Mail, nobody else was harmed, but thousands were evacuated from the airport and flights were diverted to other airports in the city.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the man attacked three Air Force soldiers who were on duty, patrolling the airport. The man tackled one of them and forced her to the ground, but she was able to hold onto her rifle, and her colleagues opened fire on the attacker, killing him instantly.
According to a report from Global News, the attacker was already a person of interest to French intelligence and Paris police. Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said that the man had been linked to a carjacking earlier in the morning in a northern Paris suburb. Allegedly, he fired birdshot at police officers who stopped him for a traffic stop, causing a facial wound to one of them, then fled the scene, stealing a running car by threatening the driver with a weapon. Later, that car was found near Orly Airport.
An anonymous police source alleged that the man as a radicalized Muslim, but did not give his name.
After his attempt on the Air Force soldiers, police and special forces evacuated some 3,000 people from Orly Airport amidst panic caused by the gunshots, then swept the airport for bombs, primarily on suspicion that the man might have been wearing a suicide belt. No explosives were found.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, said that “the man succeeded in seizing the weapon of a soldier. He was quickly neutralized by the security forces.”
Brandet’s statement and eyewitness reports differ from Minister Le Drian’s version of events: according to a witness identified as Dominque, “The soldiers took aim at the man, who in turn pointed the gun he had seized at the two soldiers.” Another witness claimed that the man threatened the soldiers with the stolen rifle, and they attempted to calm him. He then heard two gunshots.
The attacked soldier is a member of the Sentinelle special forces positioned throughout France following the deadly series of terrorist attacks which rocked the nation in late 2015. In one month, 130 people were killed and a further 368 injured by suicide bombers and mass shooters, the largest death toll seen in France since World War II. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, and further attacks throughout 2016, including last year’s Bastille Day attack in Nice which resulted in another 86 dead and 434 injured. The Sentinelle forces consist of some 7,500 soldiers, about half of whom are deployed in and around Paris.
This attack also somewhat mirrors an incident at The Louvre last month, in which an Egyptian man, 29-year-old Abdullah Hamamy, lunged at patrolling Sentinelle soldiers with a pair of machetes. The soldiers were unharmed; Hamamy was shot in the stomach but survived his injuries. Evidence, mostly recovered from his Twitter account, suggests that Hamamy was also radicalized by ISIS. He was allegedly in Paris on a business trip.
Meanwhile, the French citizenry are rattled by yet another terrorist attack, this one coming just five weeks before the French presidential election, in which national security is a major issue, and one with which the far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has made considerable headway. The attack also comes just days before the anniversary of the Brussels airport and subway attacks which killed 35 and wounded hundreds.
The French anti-terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation. For the moment, no further information seems to be forthcoming.
[Featured Image by Thibault Camus/AP Images]