Terrorist behind foiled 2015 French train terror attack receives life sentence
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A terrorist whose plan to carry out a massacre on a packed high-speed international train was foiled by the heroic actions of a group of passengers has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a French court.
Ayoub El-Khazzani, 31, opened fire with an assault rifle on the Amsterdam-to-Paris Thalys train in August 2015. Having shot two passengers, Khazzani was wrestled to the ground and restrained by three US tourists, two of them off-duty servicemen, and a British traveller.
Khazzani was convicted of attempted murder in connection with terrorism, possession of weapons in connection with terrorism and participation in a terrorist group.
The prosecution told the court that French intelligence agencies believed the attack was planned from Syria and masterminded by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is believed to have orchestrated the November 2015 bombings and shootings in Paris that left 130 people dead.
Witnesses told the court that Khazzani emerged from a lavatory cubicle on the Thalys train 9364 bare-chested and with an automatic rifle strapped across his shoulder, shortly after the train crossed the border from Belgium into northern France.
He shot a French passenger who had wrested the rifle from him using a second weapon, a pistol. However, when he went to open fire on other passengers, three US nationals who were on holiday tackled him. Four people were injured in the attack, but investigators said the heroic passengers had prevented a “massacre”.
Khazzani, who was carrying 300 rounds of ammunition, was on France’s fiche S security list of radicalised individuals considered a security risk. At first he claimed he had boarded the train to rob passengers, but he then admitted he had wanted to “kill Americans” in retaliation for bombings in Syria.
Two of the three US passengers, Anthony Sadler, a student, and Alek Skarlatos, a member of the national guard, gave evidence at the trial. Spencer Stone, an Air Force serviceman who ran straight at the gunman and wrestled him to the ground, gave evidence by video link.
Stone said Khazzani tried to kill him three times, first with the semi-automatic rifle that jammed, then with a pistol that also failed to fire, and finally with a box cutter, almost severing this thumb.
The British passenger, Chris Norman, 67, helped to tie up the Moroccan-born gunman before police arrived. All four men were given the Légion d’honneur and made honorary citizens of France. Clint Eastwood turned their heroics into a film called The 15:17 to Paris.
The attorney general said Khazzani fought furiously when the passengers tried to foil his attack. “What is striking is Ayoub El-Khazzani’s determination. He didn’t give up for a second,” he said.
Source: The Guardian