A man was shot dead Saturday after wrestling a soldier to the ground at Paris’s Orly Airport and trying to take her rifle, officials said. 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.
Police did not immediately provide a motive for the attack. The Paris 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.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the attacker, whom he did not identify, assaulted three Air Force soldiers who were 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.
The second largest airport in the French capital was evacuated following the shooting at around 8:30 a.m. (0730GMT) and both terminals were closed, airport authorities said. Traffic to Orly was “completely suspended,” France’s civil aviation authority said.
A police source told Reuters the assailant was “a radicalized Muslim known to intelligence services and the justice system.”
French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said the assailant was believed to be the same man who at around 6:50 a.m. shot a police officer at a traffic stop in a Paris suburb, wounding him in the face. He then stole a woman’s car at gunpoint and fled. That car was found near Orly.
Le Roux said police and intelligence services know who the man is, though the Paris prosecutor’s office said he did not appear in a French government database of people considered potential threats to national security.
A witness identified only as Dominque said on BFM television: “The soldiers took aim at the man, who in turn pointed the gun he had seized at the two soldiers.” Another man told BFM that there was a group of three soldiers targeted, and they tried to calm the man who seized the weapon. Then the man said he heard two gunshots.
Explosives experts checked the suspect’s body and determined he was not carrying a bomb. French national police said that only one man was involved in the airport attack and denied reports of a possible second attacker.
The soldier who was attacked is part of the Sentinel special force installed around France to protect sensitive sites after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks. The force includes 7,500 soldiers, half deployed in the Paris region and half in the provinces.
Authorities warned visitors to avoid the area while an ongoing police operation was underway. Emergency vehicles surrounded the airport as confused passengers gathered in parking lots.
Passengers on planes were told to remain on-board as the elite RAID special police force worked to secure the airport.
“We had queued up to check in for the Tel Aviv flight when we heard three or four shots nearby,” witness Franck Lecam said.
“The whole airport has been evacuated,” the 54-year-old said, confirming what an airport worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said earlier.
“We are all outside the airport, about 200 meters from the entrance,” Lecam said.
“There are policemen, emergency workers and soldiers everywhere in all directions. A security official told us that it happened near gates 37-38 where Turkish Airlines flights were scheduled.”
Orly is Paris’ second-biggest airport behind Charles de Gaulle, serving domestic and international flights, notably to destinations in Europe and Africa.
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 latest shooting comes weeks ahead of the first round of France’s two-stage presidential election, in which security is one of the main issues on voters’ minds.