A suspected Islamic terrorist who had been previously flagged for possible radicalism unloaded a barrage of bird shot at French police before being shot and killed at Paris Orly Airport after ripping an assault rifle away from a female soldier, a brazen attack that one local expert says highlights the need for better terror surveillance in France.

After yelling that he wanted to kill and die for Allah, 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem was gunned down by soldiers patrolling the crowded airport after he stole a military-grade rifle away from a female soldier but before he could open fire, a French prosecutor said.

Belgacem’s death was the violent climax of what authorities described as a 90-minute spree that began with a traffic stop in Paris’ northern suburbs. After police stopped him for driving too fast and without headlights, prosecutors said Belgacem opened fire with a revolver loaded with bird shot, injuring an officer in the face. After fleeing the traffic stop, police said, Belgacem opened fire inside a bar that he frequented regularly before stealing another car at gunpoint and making his way to the airport. Once there, a prosecutor said, Belgacem threw a bag containing a gas can at soldiers before hurling himself at them.

The brazen attack further rattled France — which remains under a state of emergency after attacks over the past two years that killed 235 people — and had Northeastern University terror expert Max Abrahms calling for the French government to take a second look at the way it keeps tabs on citizens who are suspected of being radicalized.

“When there is a terrorist attack there is a tendency to want to blame local authorities, and I tend to be very hesitant to blame authorities. … The one exception is when a terrorist is already previously known to the government and in that case, I do understand why people might criticize the government,” Abrahms said. “This is not the first time it’s happened in France. Clearly, the government doesn’t have the resources to properly surveil and imprison people who probably should be behind bars. This is frustrating.”

According to soldiers, Belgacem yelled: “Put down your weapons! Put your hands on your head! I am here to die for Allah. Whatever happens, there will be deaths.”

After taking one of the soldiers hostage, prosecutors said the two other soldiers fired three bursts, eight rounds in all, that killed him.

Prosecutors said Belgacem was flagged as having been radicalized during a spell in detention in 2011-2012. His house was among scores searched in November 2015 in the immediate aftermath of suicide bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. Yesterday’s attack comes after a similar incident last month at the Louvre Museum in Paris in which an Egyptian man attacked soldiers guarding the site. He was shot and wounded and taken into custody.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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