PARIS — A man was killed at Orly airport near Paris early on Saturday after grabbing a soldier’s gun, according to French officials. No one else was injured in the incident.
It is the second incident in two months involving a lone attacker targeting soldiers, who routinely patrol public spaces as part of Opération Sentinelle, the French military operation put in place in response to the January 2015 terrorist attacks.
The airport’s south terminal was shut down during a large portion of the day, with some planes blocked on the tarmac for hours and other flights redirected to Charles de Gaulle airport. Normal traffic was gradually resuming late on Saturday, according to airport operator Paris Aéroport.
The attacker had been involved in an altercation with police during a roadside security check earlier on Saturday, in which he injured a policewoman with a pellet gun, officials said.
French media reports identified him as a 39-year-old Frenchman named Ziyed Ben Belgacem, who reportedly had a criminal record.
“We must always be extremely vigilant,” said French President François Hollande, who said the matter had been referred to the antiterrorism division of the public prosecutor’s office.
“I would like to salute the courage and exceptional behavior of the security forces who succeeded in neutralizing the individual in extremely delicate conditions, given that the incident took place at Orly airport,” he said.
“Anyone who still doubts the role of Opération Sentinelle — the presence of military personnel in public places, airports and train stations — must understand that this military backup is vital for our security forces,” Hollande added.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said the attacker was known to police and intelligence services and it was now up to the public prosecutor charged with the inquiry to determine exactly what happened.
An unidentified eyewitness, interviewed by 24-hour news channel BFM TV, said she saw the man holding a soldier hostage while two other soldiers had their weapons trained on him.
“I was walking toward them and I saw that the man had taken hostage a young female soldier with his gun to her head. My reaction was not to leave but to walk toward him and I told him, ‘Give up, you shouldn’t do this, it’s not right.’ He didn’t answer me,” she said.
The woman said she then headed to a lower floor to warn other passengers and staff to evacuate the terminal because she believed a shootout was likely.
“Everyone panicked because nobody knew what was happening, even though there were cameras upstairs,” she said. “I blame security for not being there more quickly and for not being more coordinated, because the situation had been going on for 10 minutes.”
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian praised the soldiers for their professionalism.
“In each of these incidents, they have shown great self-control, which is due in part to their repeated training for this type of event and mission,” he said.
Last month, a man wielding knives lunged at soldiers patrolling the Louvre museum before being shot and injured. There were no other casualties in that attack either, though the French capital remains on high alert following a series of terrorist attacks in 2015.