Ziyed Ben Belgacem held a gun on a female soldier while shouting: “I am here to die in the name of Allah … There will be deaths,” before two of the soldier’s comrades shot the attacker dead, a prosecutor told reporters.
But speaking to France’s Europe 1 radio Sunday, the father of Belgacem denied his son was a terrorist and instead blamed his actions on drugs and alcohol.
“My son was not a terrorist. He never prayed and he drank,” the father, who is not being named by French authorities, said.
According to Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins, the suspect had been imprisoned several times on violence and theft convictions, including one five-year stint that began in 2009.
French terrorism investigators will lead the inquiry into the attacks, Molins said.
The father, who was released by police Sunday after being taken into custody, described how his son had called him after the shooting.
“He said to me: ‘Daddy, please forgive me. I’ve screwed up with a police officer,'” the father said.
“I said I didn’t forgive him ‘because you hurt a policeman.'”
While the father has been released by authorities, Belgacem’s brother and a cousin are still being questioned.
When Belgacem got to Orly Airport in the southern outskirts of Paris, he went to the South Terminal, carrying a weapon and a can of gas in his rucksack, Molins said.
According to Molins, Belgacem’s plans were unclear, adding that an investigation will determine whether he acted as a “lone wolf.”
An autopsy on Belgacem will go ahead on Sunday, including a toxicology examination to detect whether he was intoxicated with alcohol or drugs.
Prior attack on Saturday
Molins said Belgacem was involved in several incidents before heading to the airport.
Belgacem, who was born in 1978, was under supervision by authorities, Molins said, echoing Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux’s earlier comments that Belgacem was known to intelligence services.
Soldiers lauded for response
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian commended the soldiers who responded to the airport threat.
They responded with “remarkable professionalism and self-control” to protect their colleague and the public, he said.
Le Roux also praised the swift response of security forces at the airport. President François Hollande said the incident demonstrated that the ongoing national security operation — which has placed extra security forces at airports, train stations and other public places — is “absolutely essential” to keep people safe.
“I want to salute the courage and the exceptional behavior of the security forces who managed to put away the individual and to do so in an extremely complex situation because this occurred in Orly Airport,” he said at a news conference.
The anti-terrorism prosecutor is investigating the motives and circumstances of Saturday’s attack and the existence of any accomplices, according to a presidential statement.
Politicians add praise
Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, said the military “once again showed their professionalism this morning in Orly.”
François Fillon, of the centre-right Republican party, said: “Tribute to the men and women of Sentinel who work for our security and once again displayed courage and efficiency.”
Marine Le Pen, presidential candidate for the far-right Front National party, said: “France brimming over with violence, a consequence of the lax successive governments. But there is the bravery of our soldiers!”
Bomb squad called in
The airport was evacuated as an elite operations unit and bomb squad officers rushed to the scene. More than 450 officers were involved in the operation to secure the airport and search for evidence, France’s National Police said.
Paris Airports, the group that manages the city’s airports, said both Orly terminals were reopening Saturday afternoon after a suspension of several hours. Travelers should check with their airlines before heading to the airport, it added. Some earlier flights were rerouted to Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport. Travel for about 2,000 people had been severely disrupted, the president of Paris Airports, Augustin de Romanet, told CNN.
“It has been very disruptive, because we could fear many, many things, but all the police forces and the army have been very effective, so everything is OK now,” he said.
With roads around the airport closed off by police as the security operation unfolded, travelers had earlier tried to make their way to the airport on foot with their baggage.
Paris Orly Airport is France’s second-busiest airport, with international and domestic air traffic.