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Airport shooting reignites security debate before French election

PARIS Police questioned and then released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators sought clues on why he attacked an army patrol in an incident that has pushed security to the forefront of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize a gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past twoyears at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State, making security a key issue in the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner, told France 2 television on Sunday it was “essential” to maintain the current state of emergency, in force since November 2015 . He reiterated that he would strengthen military operations and intelligence against Islamist militants.

Conservative Francois Fillon said France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against the idea of lifting the state of emergency, as floated by the justice minister last week.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an

anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, told a rally that the government was “overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights.”

IN AND OUT OF PRISON

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody, and did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol when he was stopped for a routine traffic check north of Paris, officials said . He then fled the scene.

He later entered a bar where he was a regular customer in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but released late on Saturday, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

An autopsy showed the presence of cannabis and cocaine in Belgacem’s body, as well as an alcohol blood level of 0.93 grams per litre, a judicial source said on Sunday.

The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 g/l.

An earlier search of Belgacem’s home had found several grams of cocaine, the prosecutor said.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor . French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)

Attack on Syrian security forces in Homs kills 42

BEIRUT Militants attacked two Syrian security offices in the western city of Homs on Saturday with guns and suicide bombers, killing at least 42 people including a senior officer, a war monitor said.

The attackers killed the head of military security and 29 others at one of its headquarters in the city and 12 more people at a branch of state security in attacks that began early in the morning, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state television reported that clashes had rocked the districts of al-Ghouta and al-Mohata, where the two targets were located, before three suicide bombers detonated their explosives at each place . It did not give a death toll.

It was not immediately clear if the militants were from Islamic State or other groups, the Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said.

IS has carried out bombing attacks in the city, which is under government control except for one besieged district held by more moderate rebels . Several bombings have targeted Syrian cities held by the government of President Bashar al-Assad in recent months.

(Reporting by John Davison and Angus McDowall; additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; editing by David Clarke and Hugh Lawson)

Egypt security forces hit by two bombings in a single day

CAIRO Egyptian security forces were hit by two roadside bombings in a single day on Friday that killed six policemen and wounded six in Cairo and the north of the country, security sources and officials said.

The attacks come as the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi faces an insurgency waged by Islamist groups.

In the first incident, on Friday morning, a recently emerged Egyptian militant group claimed responsibility for a bomb in Cairo that the interior ministry said killed six policemen and wounded three others at a checkpoint on a main road leading to the Pyramids.

The Hasm Movement, which has claimed several attacks in Egypt in recent months, said it set off the bomb which, security sources said, also injured four civilians.

Eyewitness Ahmed Al-Deeb described a scene of carnage, with dead and dying policemen lying next to wrecked cars . One of the policemen had blast fragments in his chest and two more had lost legs, he told Reuters Television.

The second attack came on Friday evening in the Kafr El Sheikh governorate in the Nile Delta, where a roadside bomb killed a civilian and injured three policemen, security sources said . There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The bomb was detonated remotely as a police car drove by, but it exploded seconds after the vehicle passed, sparing the lives of the officers, the sources said.

SINAI INSURGENCY

The government is taking on militants in the Sinai Peninsula, where militants loyal to Islamic State are based, and Islamist groups elsewhere in the country.

Security forces killed three gunmen on Tuesday in a raid on a hideout in southern Egypt they said was used by Hasm, which they described as an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood . The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organisation.

Hasm, the Arabic word for decisiveness, has accused judges of sentencing thousands of innocent people to death, or jailing them for life, at the behest of the military.

Egyptian judges have issued death sentences against hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters since 2013, when President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the group, was overthrown by the army and arrested.

The Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s first free elections after the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power, has since been banned and its leaders and members have largely been imprisoned or driven into exile or underground.

Since the crackdown, other small groups, including Hasm, have emerged . Hasm claimed responsibility in September for an assassination attempt on a senior prosecutor.

Militants loyal to Islamic State based in the Sinai have killed hundreds of soldiers and police.

Judges, policemen and senior officials have been targeted by radical Islamists angered by long prison sentences imposed on members of the Brotherhood.

(Reporting by Mohamed Elsherif and Ahmed Mohamed Hassan; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Robin Pomeroy)