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French Investigators Seek Motive in Orly Airport Attack - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English
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French Investigators Seek Motive in Orly Airport Attack

Police officers investigate at the house of the suspect of an attack at Paris' Orly airport, on March 18, 2017 in Garges-les-Gonesse. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON

The man shot dead at Paris’ Orly airport after attacking a female soldier was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time, a judicial source said Sunday, as investigators try to understand what motivated his assault.

Ziyed Ben Belgacem, 39, grabbed a soldier on patrol at Orly’s southern terminal on Saturday morning. He was shot dead by two other soldiers after a scuffle.

The attacker, who was born in France to Tunisian parents, had also fired at police in a northern Paris suburb earlier that morning.

His assault led to a major security scare and the temporary closure of the capital’s second-busiest airport. Dozens of flights to and from Orly were cancelled during an hours-long shutdown, but by Sunday afternoon air traffic had returned to normal, a spokeswoman for the Paris airports authority said.

“Toxicology tests carried out on Sunday showed an alcohol level of 0.93 grams per liter in his blood, and the presence of cannabis and cocaine,” the judicial source said.

Ben Belgacem’s father had insisted earlier Sunday that his son was “not a terrorist” and that his actions were caused by drink and drugs.

He said his son — who had spent time in prison for armed robbery and drug-dealing — was not an extremist.

“My son was not a terrorist. He never prayed, and he drank,” the father, who was in shock and whose first name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

Investigators were examining his telephone.

The attack at Orly comes with France still on high alert following a wave of jihadist attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives in two years.

Ben Belgacem’s brother and cousin were released Sunday after they, like the attacker’s father, were held for questioning. All three had approached police themselves on Saturday after the attack.

After spending Friday night in a bar with his cousin, Ben Belgacem was pulled over by police for speeding in the gritty northern Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, where he lived, just before 7:00 am.

He drew a gun and fired, slightly injuring one officer. Shortly after, he contacted his relatives to tell them he had “done something stupid”, they told police.

Ben Belgacem later appeared at the bar where he had been the previous night, firing more shots and stealing another car before continuing on to the airport.

He had been investigated in 2015 over suspicions he had radicalized while serving jail time, but his name did not feature on the list of those thought to pose a high risk.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said Ben Belgacem appeared to have become caught up in a “sort of headlong flight that became more and more destructive”.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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