French anti-terror officials have launched an investigation after a man known to the security services shot at a police officer in northern Paris before travelling across the city to Orly airport, where he was killed following an altercation with another officer.
The attacker was said to be a radicalised Muslim who appeared on a security watch list, police sources told Reuters. France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor later confirmed that an inquiry had been opened into the incident on Saturday morning.
The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the Orly attacker had assaulted a patrol of three air force soldiers, one of whom was a woman.
The attacker wrestled her to the floor and tried to take her weapon, but she managed to keep hold of it. The two other soldiers then opened fire to protect her and passengers in the airport, he said.
The soldiers were part of the Sentinelle special forces, an elite military group installed around France to protect sensitive sites after a string of deadly extremist attacks.
The interior minister, Bruno Le Roux, said the man shot dead at the airport was linked with a car-jacking incident earlier on Saturday in a northern suburb of Paris. He said the man had shot a female police officer at a routine traffic checkpoint before fleeing the scene and stealing a car at gunpoint.
Le Roux said the officer had not been badly injured, and he confirmed that the gunman was known to police and the intelligence services.
The French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to the troops involved in the Sentinelle operation. The independent centrist said during a speech in Paris that the soldiers attacked at Orly airport “once again demonstrated calm, control and professionalism”.
No explosive devices were found on the dead man’s body, an interior ministry spokesman said.
About 3,000 people were evacuated from both terminals at Orly and all flights were suspended, with some diverted to Charles de Gaulle airport. Travellers have been told to avoid the airport while the security operation was under way. Some whose flights had already landed were being held on board.
A witness, Franck Lecam, said: “We had queued up to check in for the Tel Aviv flight when we heard three or four shots nearby. We are all outside the airport, about 200 metres from the entrance. There are policemen, emergency workers and soldiers everywhere in all directions. A security official told us that it happened near gates 37-38 where Turkish Airlines flights were scheduled.”
No one else was injured in the Orly incident.
The airport shooting follows after a similar incident last month at the Louvre museum in central Paris.
France remains under a state of emergency in the wake of the attack on the Bataclan music venue in November 2015 in which jihadi gunmen killed 90 people, and the Nice truck attack last July that claimed the lives of 84 people and injured hundreds more.