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What we know about the Paris Orly airport attacker

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What we know about the Paris Orly airport attacker
All photos: AFP
15:11 CET+01:00
UPDATED: A man who had been investigated for links to radical Islam was shot dead at Orly airport south of Paris on Saturday after attacking a soldier on patrol and trying to grab her rifle.
The same man is suspected of having shot at police earlier in the day, leaving an officer with minor wounds after being pulled over while driving in a suburb north of the French capital.
 
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins described him as "an extremely violent individual" harbouring terrorist instincts and his neighbours said he was a "devil" with a "scary face".

His rap sheet meanwhile paints a picture of a seasoned criminal, well-used to courts and spells behind bars.
 
Who was the attacker? 
 
Officials have named him as Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a 39-year-old Frenchman who was known to police and intelligence agencies.

Born in Paris, he had a string of criminal convictions for armed robbery, drug dealing, violence and receiving stolen goods. He was jailed for five years in 2001 for armed robbery, and again in 2009 for drug dealing.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Ben Belgacem had shown signs in 2011 and 2012 of having radicalized in jail. His home was searched in 2015 on suspicion of links to radical Islam, but no incriminating evidence was found.
 

The man's father, brother and cousin were detained for questioning on Saturday, according to Molins, all of them having approached police themselves. Police also searched Ben Belgacem's home in the northeastern Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, in the multi-ethnic Seine-Saint-Denis area. Officers found a machete and several grams of cocaine in the apartment.
  
What happened? 
 
The suspect was pulled over by police at around 6:55am (0555 GMT) Saturday while driving in Garges-les-Gonesse. He drew a gun and fired shots at the officers, slightly injuring one in the head, before fleeing.
   
He then continued south to steal another car in the suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Orly airport. In Vitry, he also "burst into a bar and threatened those present," Le Roux said.
 
   
Shortly after at 8:22 am (0722 GMT), according to prosecutor Molins, he walked onto the departures floor of Orly airport's south terminal where he grabbed a female officer on patrol with two male colleagues.

Positioning her as a shield, he pointed his revolver to her temple, Molins told a press conference.

"Put your weapons down, hands on your heads. I'm here to die for Allah. In any case people are going to die," he told the soldiers.

He scuffled with the female soldier, trying to take her assault rifle and succeeding after a couple of attempts.

She then dropped to her knees, giving her colleagues the opportunity to shoot at him. He tried again to use her as a shield, but a third shot killed him at 8:25 am, Molins said.

A subsequent search found he had brought along a petrol can in a backpack. He also had in his possession a 9mm revolver, 750 euros ($805), a copy of the Koran as well as a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. No-one else was injured in the melee.

Identity documents found on the attacker matched those presented by the man who fired at police in Garges-les-Gonesse.
   
No-one else was injured in the melee.
   
Identity documents found on the attacker matched those presented by the man who fired at police in Garges-les-Gonesse.
 
'A scary face'

Neighbours described him to AFP as a withdrawn, serious man who nobody really knew. He seemed lonely, they said.

No one had any idea of his spells in prison, although since his most recent release from jail in September, he had been under judicial monitoring.

"The last time I saw him was three days ago. He had a determined air, as if he wanted to fight with his family or colleagues," said one neighbour Hamid.

"Sometimes, we'd meet in the elevator, that's all. He always wore sports clothes. He has a scary face, a real devil," said Hatice, another neighbour.

At this stage, there is no indication Ben Belgacem had made trips overseas, according to the Paris prosecutor, unlike many other radicalized Islamists.

He was a regular at an Italian-Cuban bar in the south of Paris, which was known for its rowdy nights, a local said.

It was to this venue he headed immediately after drawing a gun and firing at officers earlier Saturday, slightly injuring one in the head. He then burst into the bar, threatened customers and fired again without injuring anyone.

Telling his relatives by phone that he had been up to some "mischief", he then drove towards what prosecutors described as the "crescendo" of his destructiveness, stealing a car and heading towards the airport.
 
Was this a foiled terror attack? 
 
The investigation has been entrusted to anti-terror prosecutors, meaning that authorities suspect terrorism as a possible motive.
   
France is still under a state of emergency after a series of terror attacks, including the November 2015 massacre in Paris which killed 130 and a truck attack in Nice in July last year which left 86 dead.
   
The security forces have been repeatedly targeted by Islamist radicals.
 
   
In mid-February, a machete-wielding Egyptian attacked soldiers on patrol outside the Louvre museum in Paris, slightly injuring one of them, before being shot and wounded.
   
In June 2016 a man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group stabbed a police couple to death at their home near Paris.
   
Soldiers have also been targeted in a number of smaller knife attacks.

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