by: Harriet Agnew in Paris and Reuters
A man who was shot dead by security forces after he seized a soldier’s gun at Paris Orly airport on Saturday morning was known to police and intelligence sources, the French interior minister has said.
The antiterrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation into the man, who a police source described as a radicalised Muslim but did not identify by name. The man shot and wounded a police officer during a routine traffic check earlier, Bruno le Rouz told reporters.
The attack comes at a politically sensitive time just five weeks before the first round of voting in the French presidential election, in which national security is a key issue. It could increase the popularity of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is campaigning on an anti-immigration and populist platform and is projected to win the first round.
It comes also just three days after the French justice minister suggested lifting the country’s national state of emergency that has been in force since the November 2015 Paris terror attacks and is due to last until July 2015.
Jean-Jacques Urvoas said during a speech on Wednesday that the country had “created the conditions that make it possible to exit the state of emergency, without weakening ourselves or remaining helpless in the face of the threat of terrorism.” Mr Urvoas didn’t give a date or timeframe for ending the emergency.
The Orly airport south of Paris — the second busiest in the country — was evacuated and security forces swept the area for bombs to make sure the dead man was not wearing an explosive belt, but nothing was found, an interior ministry official said.
“The man succeeded in seizing the weapon of a soldier. He was quickly neutralised by the security forces,” the official added.
No one else was injured at the airport.
President François Hollande on Saturday reaffirmed “the determination of the State to act relentlessly to fight against terrorism, to defend the safety of our compatriots and to ensure the protection of the territory” and confirmed that anti-terrorist section of the Paris public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation.
Flights were suspended from both terminals of the airport and some arrivals were diverted to Charles de Gaulle airport north of the capital, airport operator ADP said. Around 3,000 passengers were evacuated from the airport.
Earlier, a police officer was shot and wounded by the same man during a routine traffic check in Stains, north of Paris.
France remains on high alert after attacks by Islamic State militants that killed scores of people in the last two years — including co-ordinated bombings and shootings in Paris in November 2015 in which 130 people were killed.
In February a man attacked a French soldier at the Louvre in Paris, crying “Allahu akbar” before he was shot and seriously wounded by security forces in what authorities believe was an attempted terrorist attack.
The soldier whose gun the man tried to seize on Saturday was a member of the army’s “Sentinelle” operation responsible for patrolling airports and other key sites since January 2015 when Islamist attackers killed 12 people at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. It was reinforced after the Paris attacks.
In March 2016, Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital which killed 35 people, including three suicide bombers.
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