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France opens anti-terrorist probe after Orly shooting

A special forces policeman at Orly airport outside Paris on March 18, 2017.
A special forces policeman at Orly airport outside Paris on March 18, 2017. Reuters/Christian Hartmann

The second largest airport in France, located some 12 kilometres south of Paris, was evacuated on Saturday morning after security forces shot dead a man who had grabbed a soldier’s weapon.


The man, who has been identified as a 39-year-old Frenchman, was on a police watch list and therefore known to intelligence services, according to Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux. His brother and father have taken into police custody for questioning.

Nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from Orly airport after the man grabbed a soldier’s weapon then hid in an airport shop, where he was shot dead by other soldiers on site. There were no other injuries, and the airport had partially reopened as of Saturday afternoon.

The man is suspected of being the same one who shot and wounded a police officer earlier on Saturday morning during a routine check in the northern Paris suburb of Stains. He fled the scene in a car that was later found in suburbs south of the capital.

He is then reported to have been involved in a carjacking in the southern suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine, near Orly, before going to the airport. The stolen car has been found at the airport, according to BBC.

At Orly, the man had attempted to take a woman soldier’s gun, according to Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Although she managed to hold onto it, two other soldiers intervened as they “found it necessary to open fire to protect her and especially the public”, Le Drian added.

The attacker’s motivations are not yet known.

Bomb disposal experts deployed on site have confirmed the absence of explosives. Police have also affirmed that the man was not armed with explosives. However, security operations are still ongoing.

Traffic to Orly was completely suspended Saturday morning and both terminals were closed. Arriving flights were re-routed to Paris Roissy airport.

The attacker was the subject of a search warrant in 2015 after being “detected as radicalised”, police sources have told AFP, who added that no incriminating evidence was found during the search. He also had a criminal record including armed robbery and drug trafficking.

The soldier whom the man took the weapon from was part of Operation Sentinelle, which was launched after the January 2015 Paris attacks. Since then, thousands of troops have been deployed throughout the Paris region to guard potential targets of terror attacks, such as airports, train stations and religious sites.

In a statement released Saturday morning, President François Hollande wrote that “once again, Operation Sentinelle has proved its usefulness”. He also praised the “courage and efficiency” of the police and soldiers involved in Saturday’s events throughout the capital for “putting an end to the violence committed by a particularly dangerous individual.”

Hollande added that Saturday's events have served to "justify the state of emergency" that has been in place since the November 2015 Paris attacks.

France is still under a state of emergency following a string of terrorist attacks that have left hundreds dead, including a truck attack in Nice last July.

In February, a man with a machete attacked a soldier near the Louvre museum in Paris before being shot and wounded.

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