Troops at Paris’ Orly airport on Saturday shot dead a man who tried to grab a soldier’s weapon, triggering a major security scare that shut down the airport and left thousands of travellers stranded.
Nobody was hurt in the incident which comes as France remains on high alert following a series of radical attacks that have claimed over 230 lives since January 2015. Prosecutors said they had launched an anti-terrorism investigation.
France goes to the polls on April 23 in the first round of a two-stage presidential election, in which security is one of the main issues on voters’ minds.
The latest shooting also came on the second day of an official visit to Paris by Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said the slain man had been linked to an earlier attack on police north of Paris, in which an officer was slightly wounded, and was “known to the police and intelligence services”.
The incident took place at around 8:30am in the Orly-Sud terminal at the smaller of Paris’ two international airports, located south of the capital.
“A man took a weapon from a soldier then hid in a shop in the airport before being shot dead by security forces,” an interior ministry spokesman said. No-one was injured.
Addressing reporters at the airport Le Roux later said that the man had tried “but not succeeded” in grabbing the rifle of the female soldier on patrol with two male colleagues.
Le Roux said the man was suspected of earlier opening fire on police during a routine traffic inspection in the northern suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse at 7am (0600GMT). One officer suffered minor head injuries.
He was suspected of then stealing a car in another suburb and driving to Orly, Le Roux said. Police sources said he was aged 39.
A witness to the events at the airport told BFM TV he saw the man in possession of the soldier’s rifle and threatening her.
“The soldiers were trying to reason with him,” he said, adding that as he fled the scene he heard two shots.
Franck Lecam, a traveller bound for Tel Aviv, told AFP he heaed “three or four shots” nearby as he was queuing to check in.
“There are policemen, emergency workers and soldiers everywhere,” he said after being forced to evacuate the terminal with around 3,000 others.
Air traffic to Orly was suspended and all incoming flights rerouted to Charles De Gaulle airport north of Paris.
Several planes that were preparing for takeoff or had just landed in Orly were grounded on the tarmac while the security operation unfolded.
Passengers in the Orly-Ouest terminal were confined in the building.
Elite police teams intervened quickly to secure the airport and search it for possible explosives but none were found.
The soldier from whom the man took the weapon was a part of Operation Sentinelle, deployed after the January 2015 Paris attacks.
It involves some 7,000 troops of whom roughly half are deployed in the Paris region.