Police questioned and released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators continue to search for clues and an autopsy and toxicology tests found drugs and alcohol in his system.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize the gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport on Saturday morning.
After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.
More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamic Islamist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These include coordinated bombings and shootings in November 2015 in Paris when 130 people were killed and scores injured.
With the country in the throes of a highly charged election campaign before a two-round presidential election in April and May, the attacks fuelled the political debate about security.
Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar. They said he became a radicalized Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.
He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody for theft and he did not have the right to leave the country.
Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol after a routine traffic stop north of Paris before fleeing, officials said.
Later he entered a bar in Vitry-sur-Seine, on the other side of Paris about 10 kilometres from Orly, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone. He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.
Regret after police stopped car
Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but then released, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.
“My son has never been a terrorist. He has never prayed: he drinks. And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1.
He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness. I screwed up with a policeman.”
The Paris prosecutors’ office said toxicology tests conducted as part of an autopsy found traces of cocaine and cannabis in Belgacem’s blood.
He also had 0.93 grams of alcohol per litre of blood when he died Saturday, the prosecutors’ office said. The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 grams per litre.
A police search of his flat found cocaine, said Molins, the Paris prosecutor.
A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.
‘Our government is overwhelmed,’ says Le Pen
Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor. French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.
Presidential candidates responded swiftly to the incident.
Conservative François Fillon said that France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against a proposal to lift a state of emergency in place since the November 2015 attacks.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an anti-immigration, anti-EU ticket, said the Orly attacker could have caused a “massacre.”
“Our government is overwhelmed, stunned, paralyzed like a rabbit in the headlights,” she told an election rally.