ORLY, France (AP) — Soldiers at Paris’ busy Orly Aiport shot and killed a man who wrestled one of their colleagues to the ground and tried to steal her rifle Saturday, officials said.
Thousands of travelers were evacuated and at least 15 flights were diverted to the city’s other airport, Charles de Gaulle. No one else was hurt.
Police did not immediately provide a motive or identify the attacker, though the Paris prosecutor’s office said he was 39 and had a record of robbery and drug offenses. The office said he did not appear in a French government database of people considered potential threats to national security.
Earlier Saturday, he fired birdshot at officers during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb, wounding one in the face. Then, Paris police said, he stole a woman’s car at gunpoint. It was found near Orly.
The prosecutor’s office said its anti-terrorism division was handling the investigation and had taken the attacker’s father and brother into custody for questioning.
The incident further rattled France, which remains under a state of emergency after attacks over the past two years that have killed 235 people.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the attacker, whom he did not identify, assaulted three Air Force soldiers who were patrolling the airport. He said the soldier who was attacked managed to hold on to her rifle and the two soldiers she was with opened fire to protect her and the public. A spokesman for the force later said she was shocked but not hurt.
It happened around 8:30 a.m. Paris time (0730 GMT) in a public area of the airport’s South Terminal, before passengers must show tickets or go through security.
Officials said about 3,000 people were evacuated from Orly, where passengers told of gunshots and panic. Traffic was jammed near the airport and people wheeled suitcases down the road.
People on 13 flights that landed around the time the drama was unfolding had to stay on planes for several hours. Augustin de Romanet, president of the ADP airport authority, said they were allowed off around noon, once a search of the airport was complete.
A witness identified only as Dominque told BFM Television that the attacker held the soldier by the throat and held her arm and her weapon.
“We saw it was a serious situation so we escaped,” he said. “We went down the stairs and right after we heard two gunshots.”
Taxi driver Youssef Mouhajra was picking up passengers at Orly when he heard shots, which he first thought were just a warning.
“We have become accustomed to this kind of warning and to having the soldiers there,” he said.
Then he said he saw people rushing out of the terminal.
“I told (the passengers) let’s get out of here,” he said. As he drove away, he saw soldiers and police rushing toward the airport.
The soldier who was attacked is part of the Sentinelle special force installed around France to protect sensitive sites after a string of deadly Islamic extremist attacks. The force includes 7,500 soldiers, half deployed in the Paris region and half in the provinces.
Saturday was at least the fourth time that Sentinelle soldiers have been targeted since the force was created. It was set up after the attack January 2015 attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and reinforced after the assaults that left 130 people dead in Paris in November of that year.
Orly is Paris’ second-biggest airport, behind Charles de Gaulle. It has both domestic and international flights, notably to destinations in Europe and Africa.
The shooting comes after a similar incident last month at the Louvre Museum in which an Egyptian man attacked soldiers guarding the site and was shot and wounded. It also comes just days before the first anniversary of attacks on the Brussels airport and subway that killed 32 people and wounded hundreds of others.
Leicester reported from Paris. Associated Press Writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed.