WASHINGTON - French authorities are still working to determine whether a man shot dead at Paris' Orly airport acted on impulse or carefully planned an attack.
Ziyed Ben Belgacem, born in France to Tunisian parents, was killed Saturday morning after grabbing a female soldier and putting a gun to her head. He was heard shouting he wanted to "die for Allah."
The 39-year-old, suspected to have links to radical Islam, apparently intended to open fire on passengers, a prosecutor said. Two colleagues on patrol with the female soldier shot and killed the man before he could fire the military weapon in the busy airport terminal.
The attack forced the airport's terminals to shut down and evacuate, while passengers and workers were fleeing in panic and hundreds of others remained aboard flights that had just landed.
Police did not provide a motive for the attack, but the Paris prosecutors office said an investigation is being handled by the anti-terror division. The suspect’s father and brother were detained by police Saturday, which police said is part of standard procedure.
Belgacem’s father was released Sunday and told France's Europe 1 radio that his son was not a terrorist.
“He never prayed and he drank. This is what happens under the influence of drink and cannabis,” he said.
Belgacem called his father minutes after the shooting "in a state of extreme agitation".
"He said to me: 'Daddy, please forgive me. I've screwed up with a police officer.'
Belgacem’s father learned of his son’s death after presenting himself at a police station.
As of Sunday morning, the anti-terror investigators were still questioning the shooter’s brother and cousin.
Belgacem was first stopped by police in Paris' northern suburbs early Saturday morning for speeding and driving without lights.
He opened fire with a revolver, wounding an officer, Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said, adding that the shooter was “known to the police and intelligence.”
Belgacem then threatened people in a bar before stealing a car at gunpoint and driving to the airport.
The female soldier attacked at Orly is a member of the Sentinelle Special Forces that guard airports, religious sites and other popular places in France since terror attacks in 2015.
Police teams quickly secured the airport and searched for explosives, but found none.
French President Francois Hollande said during a news conference that the Orly attack proved the necessity of the Sentinelle patrol soldiers and that investigators will determine whether the attacker “had a terrorist plot behind him.”
The suspect, who spent time in prison for drugs and armed robbery, had his home searched in 2015 after a terror attack in Paris that killed 130 people because of his suspected connection to radical Islam, French authorities said.