THE FATHER OF the man shot dead at Orly airport in Paris after attacking a soldier insisted that his son was “not a terrorist” and that his actions were caused by drink and drugs.
Investigators were still trying to understand what motivated the assault by 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, which led to a major security scare and the temporary closure of the capital’s second-busiest airport.
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 radicalisation.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins described him as “an extremely violent individual” harbouring terrorist instincts and his neighbours 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 radicalisation”, according to prosecutor Molins, and he was known to police but not considered a serious threat. His house was searched, with no result.
But despite the French prosecutor linking the attacker to fundamentalism, Belgacem’s father insisted he was not a extremist.
“My son was not a terrorist. He never prayed and he drank,” the father, who was in shock and whose first name was not given, told Europe 1 radio, blaming “drink and cannabis” for his son’s actions.
An autopsy was to to be carried out on Ben Belgacem’s body Sunday to determine if alcohol or drugs were indeed a factor.
‘A scary face’
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. Neighbours described him to AFP as a withdrawn, serious man who nobody really knew.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 neighbour 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 neighbour.
At this stage, there is no indication Ben Belgacem had made trips overseas, according to the Paris prosecutor, unlike many other radicalised 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 yesterday, 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 Koran in his bag.
Read: Man shot dead at Paris airport after trying to take soldier’s gun was ‘investigated for radicalisation’