PARIS – Troops at Paris’ Orly airport on Saturday shot dead a man who tried to grab a soldier’s weapon, triggering a major security scare that shut down the airport and left thousands of travellers stranded.
Nobody was hurt in the incident which comes as France remains on high alert following a series of jihadist attacks that have claimed over 230 lives since January 2015. Prosecutors said they had launched an anti-terrorism investigation.
France goes to the polls on 23 April in the first round of a two-stage presidential election, in which security is one of the main issues on voters’ minds.
The latest shooting also came on the second day of an official visit to Paris by Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said the slain man had been linked to an earlier attack on police north of Paris, in which an officer was slightly wounded, and was “known to the police and intelligence services”.
The incident took place at around 8:30am in the Orly-Sud terminal at the smaller of Paris’ two international airports, located south of the capital.
“A man took a weapon from a soldier then hid in a shop in the airport before being shot dead by security forces,” an interior ministry spokesman told AFP. No-one was injured.
Addressing reporters at the airport Le Roux later said that the man had tried “but not succeeded” in grabbing the rifle of the female soldier on patrol with two male colleagues.
Le Roux said the man was suspected of earlier opening fire on police during a routine traffic inspection in the northern suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse at around 7:00am . One officer suffered minor head injuries.
He was suspected of then stealing a car in another suburb and driving to Orly, Le Roux said. Police sources said he was aged 39.
A witness to the events at the airport told BFM TV he saw the man in possession of the soldier’s rifle and threatening her.
“The soldiers were trying to reason with him,” he said, adding that as he fled the scene he heard two shots.
Franck Lecam, a traveller bound for Tel Aviv, told AFP he heard “three or four shots” nearby as he was queuing to check in.
“There are policemen, emergency workers and soldiers everywhere,” he said after being forced to evacuate the terminal with around 3,000 others.
Air traffic to Orly was suspended and all incoming flights rerouted to Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris.
Several planes that were preparing for takeoff or had just landed in Orly were grounded on the tarmac while the security operation unfolded.
Passengers in the Orly-Ouest terminal were confined in the building.
Elite police teams intervened quickly to secure the airport and search it for possible explosives but none were found.
France is still in a state of emergency after a series of terror attacks, including the November 2015 massacre in Paris and a truck attack in Nice, in July last year. In mid-February, an Egyptian staged a machete attack in Paris’s Louvre museum before being shot and wounded.
The soldier from whom the man took the weapon was a part of Operation Sentinelle, deployed after the January 2015 Paris attacks.
It involves some 7,000 troops of whom roughly half are deployed in the Paris region. They are charged with guarding religious sites which could be targets of terror attacks as well as airports, railway stations and tourist spots.
A notice was posted on the Paris airports authority website urging passengers not to travel to Orly.
Budget airlines easyJet said in a statement that “like all other airlines” it expected interruptions and flight delays, adding that 46 of its flights were due to fly in and out of the airport on Saturday.
On Thursday, a letter bomb exploded at the Paris offices of the International Monetary Fund, injuring a secretary who suffered burns to her hands and face.
French President Francois Hollande called it an “attack”, saying it showed the country was “still targeted”.
“All this leads me to justify the state of emergency” that has been in effect since November 2015, Hollande said.
PHOTO: On March 18, 2017, a man was shot dead after he tried to seize the weapon of a soldier on duty at Paris Orly Airport in Paris, France. Following the incident, the terminal was evacuated. According to media reports, the suspect was involved in another shooting incident at a traffic stop in northern Paris the same morning, where he fired at police with a pellet gun before escaping in a car. (Pictured) Military and emergency services are seen outside Paris Orly Airport.