Saturday 21 October 2017

I screwed up, Orly airport gunman told his father before final attack

A woman holds her baby outside Orly airport after a gunman forced evacuation of the terminal south of Paris Photo: AP Photo/Thibault Camus
A woman holds her baby outside Orly airport after a gunman forced evacuation of the terminal south of Paris Photo: AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Yann Le Guernigou

The Orly airport gunman phoned his father before the attack to say he had screwed up earlier in attacking another policeman in Paris.

Police have questioned the father and other relatives of the attacker - who was shot dead by soldiers - as they sought clues about why he tried to seize an assault rifle in an incident that has pushed security to the top of France's election campaign.

A policeman on patrol after the Orly Airport incident Photo: AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu
A policeman on patrol after the Orly Airport incident Photo: AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to "die for Allah" when he tried to seize the gun from a female air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Isil.

These include coordinated bombings and shootings in November 2015 in Paris when 130 people were killed and scores injured.

With the country in the throes of a highly charged election campaign before a two-round presidential election in April and May, the attacks fuelled the political debate about security.

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences, was already on the authorities' radar. Sources said he had become a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody for theft and he did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours earlier before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol after a routine traffic stop north of Paris before fleeing.

Later he entered a bar in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone. He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem's father, who was initially detained by police but then released, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

He said his son phoned him to say before the attack: "I ask your forgiveness. I screwed up with a policeman."

"My son has never been a terrorist. He has never prayed: he drinks. And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens," the father told French TV.

Police said they also questioned and released a brother and cousin of Belgacem.

Mr Molins said they would be examining his phone to establish whom he had contacted.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor. French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

Presidential candidates responded swiftly to the incident.

Conservative Francois Fillon said that France was in a "situation of virtual civil war" and condemned a proposal to lift a state of emergency in place since the 2015 attacks in Paris.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an anti-immigration, anti-EU ticket, said the Orly attacker could have caused a "massacre". "Our government is overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights," she said.

Irish Independent

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