Thalys train attacker, thwarted by Americans, goes on trial in Paris

FILE PHOTO: Belgian police officers stand guard on a platform at the Thalys high-speed train terminal at Brussels Midi/Zuid railway station
FILE PHOTO: Belgian police officers stand guard on a platform at the Thalys high-speed train terminal at Brussels Midi/Zuid railway station, August 22, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

November 16, 2020

PARIS (Reuters) – A suspected Islamist gunman who opened fire aboard a high-speed train travelling through northern Europe but was overpowered by three U.S. citizens before he killed anyone goes on trial on Monday in the French capital.

Moroccan national Ayoub el Khazzani was heavily armed when he launched his attack moments after the train crossed into France from Belgium on Aug. 21, 2015.

Khazzani is accused of attempted murder with intent to commit terrorism and association with terrorist networks, among other charges. He faces life in jail if convicted.

A French citizen was the first to tackle Khazzani after a gunshot rung out in a carriage before the three Americans, two of whom were in the military at the time, rushed the attacker and disarmed him.

A judicial source said Khazzani had confessed to planning the attack to investigators but had said he only intended to attack U.S. soldiers on leave, and not civilians. He told investigators he decided against the attack at the last second but that it was too late to avoid the confrontation with passengers, the source added.

France was at the time still recovering from the trauma of attacks in Paris seven months earlier against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. Three months later, a squad of jihadists would strike again, killing 130 people in coordinated attacks on the capital.

“One need only know that Ayoub El Khazzani was in possession of 300 rounds of ammunition and firearms to understand what we narrowly avoided, a tragedy, a massacre,” France’s then president, Francois Hollande, said days after the attack at a ceremony to award the American friends the Legion of Honour.

Clint Eastwood, the U.S. actor and director, made a movie based on the events entitled ‘The 15:17 to Paris’

Prosecutors have said Khazzani’s attack was premeditated. He allegedly listened to audio on social media calling on Muslims to take up arms in the name of the Prophet, they said.

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun and Richard Lough, Editing by William Maclean)