Category: Terrorism / Air Transport / Defence Forces

Autopsy to learn if Paris airport attacker was drunk or high

Sunday, 19 Mar 2017 22:00:22

French officials are conducting an autopsy to determine whether a suspected Islamic extremist was drunk or high on drugs when he took a soldier hostage at Orly Airport in Paris and was shot dead by her fellow patrolmen.

Key points:

  • Suspect was seen at a bar before the airport attack
  • The 39-year-old had a long criminal record related to drugs and robberies
  • Police found cocaine in his apartment

Ziyed Ben Belgacem stopped at a bar early on Saturday morning, around four hours before he first fired birdshot at traffic police.

Ninety minutes later, he attacked the military patrol at Orly, causing panic and the shutdown of the city's second-biggest airport.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said a subsequent police search of Belgacem's apartment found cocaine.

In an interview on Sunday with French radio station Europe 1, a man identified as the suspect's father said Belgacem drank alcohol and was not a practising Muslim.

"My son was never a terrorist. He never attended prayer. He drank. But under the effects of alcohol and cannabis, this is where one ends up," the man said.

Europe 1 did not give the father's name.

Witness describes seeing Orly airport attacker Video: Witness describes seeing Orly airport attacker (ABC News)

Prosecutors said Belgacem's father had been released from police custody on Saturday night, but his brother and a cousin were still being questioned.

In a news conference late on Saturday, Mr Molins said Belgacem had called his father and brother early that morning, minutes after he fired birdshot at a police traffic patrol, injuring an officer in the face, to say that he had made a stupid mistake.

"He was extremely angry, even his mother couldn't understand him," his father told Europe 1.

"He told me, 'I ask for your forgiveness, I've screwed up with a gendarme'."

Suspect had long criminal record

The prosecutor's office said blood samples taken during Sunday's autopsy were to be screened for drugs and alcohol.

The 39-year-old Frenchman had a long criminal record, with multiple jail terms for drugs and robbery offences.

Mr Molins said Belgacem was out on bail, banned from leaving France and obliged to report regularly to police, having been handed preliminary charges for robberies in 2016.

He was also flagged as having been radicalised during a spell in detention from 2011–2012, Mr Molins said.

His house was among scores searched in November 2015 in the immediate aftermath of suicide bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 people in Paris.

Yelling that he wanted to kill and die for Allah, Belgacem wrested away the soldier's assault rifle during the Saturday morning airport attack, but was shot and killed by her two colleagues before he could fire the military-grade weapon in Orly's busy south terminal.

"With a pistol in his right hand and a bag over his shoulder, he grabbed [the soldier] with his left arm, made her move backward by three to four metres, positioning her as a shield, and pointed his revolver at her forehead," Mr Molins said.

The prosecutor added that, according to soldiers, the attacker yelled: "Put down your weapons! Put your hands on your head! I am here to die for Allah. Whatever happens, there will be deaths."

The attack forced both of the airport's terminals to shut down and evacuate, sent passengers and workers fleeing in panic and trapped hundreds of others aboard flights that had just landed.

It was the violent climax of what authorities described as a 90-minute spree of destructive criminality across Paris by the suspect.

The fearsome drama that caused no injuries aside from the lightly wounded traffic police officer further rattled France, which remains under a state of emergency after attacks in the past two years that have killed 235 people.



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