Autopsy conducted to learn if French airport attacker was intoxicated

PARIS — French officials conducted an autopsy Sunday to determine whether a suspected Islamic extremist was drunk or high on drugs when he took a soldier hostage at Paris’s Orly Airport and was killed.

The suspect, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, stopped at a bar in the wee hours Saturday morning, around four hours before he first fired bird shot at traffic police. Then, 90 minutes later, he attacked the military patrol at Orly, causing panic and the shutdown of the French capital’s second-biggest airport.

A subsequent police search of his flat found cocaine, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said. Blood samples taken during Sunday’s autopsy will be screened for drugs and alcohol, the prosecutors’ office said.


The suspect reportedly shouted that he wanted to kill and die for Allah.

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But in an interview Sunday with French radio Europe 1, a man identified as the suspect’s father said Belgacem wasn’t a practicing Muslim and drank alcohol. “My son was never a terrorist,’’ he said.

“Under the effects of alcohol and cannabis, this is where one ends up,” said the father. Europe 1 did not give his name.

The 39-year-old Frenchman had a long criminal record, with multiple jail terms for drugs and robbery offences.

Molins said Belgacem was out on bail, banned from leaving France and obliged to report regularly to police, having faced preliminary charges for robberies in 2016.


He was also flagged as having been radicalized during a spell in detention from 2011 to 2012, Molins said. 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.

France’s presidential election campaign is taking note of an attack on the airport military patrol.

Most notably, the party of far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen sought to capitalize from Saturday’s attack, accusing previous administrations and President Francois Hollande’s government of being weak in the face of security threats.

France’s military is on the front line of the fight against terrorism, one of the biggest challenges for the country’s next president. French troops are engaged in operations against Islamic extremism in Syria, Iraq, and Africa’s Sahel region, as well as in its own territory since terror attacks in 2015.

Leading presidential candidates are proposing increasing the French defense budget to at least 2 percent of GDP by the mid-2020s, up from 1.78 percent now, in line with NATO targets.


Le Pen promises a more ‘‘substantial’’ financial effort to reach 3 percent of GDP, adding 50,000 more soldiers, a second aircraft carrier, and more jets, ships and armored vehicles.

Independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, as well as conservative candidate Francois Fillon and the Socialist Benoit Hamon, have vowed to keep the number of troops stable.

France’s military currently has about 200,000 soldiers.