Frenchman shot dead while attempting to steal a soldier’s assault weapon.
Frenchman Ziyed Ben Belgacem, who was shot dead by a soldier on Saturday at Paris’s Orly airport, was ready “to die for Allah” and had vowed to slay others.
The 39-year-old Paris-born Frenchman was killed as he attacked a soldier, grappling with her and trying to steal her assault weapon, ending an hours-long spree of violence. Ben Belgacem had a string of criminal convictions and showed signs of Islamic radicalization.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins described him as “an extremely violent individual” harboring terrorist instincts and his neighbors said he was a “devil” with a “scary face.” His rap sheet paints a picture of a seasoned criminal, well-used to courts and spells behind bars. He had nine entries on his record, from violence to receiving stolen goods. In 2001, he was sentenced to five years in prison for armed robbery.
This was not his last stint in prison. In 2009, he was handed successive sentences of three and five years for drug trafficking.
While he was in prison, officials noticed “signs of radicalization,” according to prosecutor Molins, and he was known to police but not considered a serious threat. His house was searched, with no result. The attacker lived on the sixth floor of a building in the northeastern Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, in the multi-ethnic Seine-Saint-Denis area. Neighbors described him to AFP as a withdrawn, serious man who nobody really knew. He seemed lonely, they said.
No one had any idea of his spells in prison, although since his most recent release from jail in September, he had been under judicial monitoring. “The last time I saw him was three days ago. He had a determined air, as if he wanted to fight with his family or colleagues,” said one neighbor Hamid. “Sometimes, we’d meet in the elevator, that’s all. He always wore sports clothes. He has a scary face, a real devil,” said Hatice, another neighbor.
At this stage, there is no indication Ben Belgacem had made trips overseas, according to the Paris prosecutor, unlike many other radicalized Islamists. Officers found several grams of cocaine in the apartment, and he was a regular at an Italian-Cuban bar in the south of Paris, which was known for its rowdy nights, a local said.
It was to this venue he headed immediately after drawing a gun and firing at officers earlier Saturday, slightly injuring one in the head. He then burst into the bar, threatened customers and fired again without injuring anyone. Telling his relatives by phone that he had been up to some “mischief,” he then drove towards what prosecutors described as the “crescendo” of his destructiveness, stealing a car and heading towards the airport, with a can of petrol and a Quran in his bag.