A train attack trial foiled by 3 Americans opens in France


A member of the Islamic State accused of an attack on a European train arrested by three young Californian vacationers was tried Monday in France for terrorism.Opening Ayoub Khazzani’s trial, the judge said the 31-year-old Moroccan, who had links to a notorious terrorist brain, intended to “kill all passengers” aboard the Amsterdam-Paris express train in 2015 but “lost control of events. One of the young men who helped control Khazzani told investigators the naked torso shooter looked drugged and “completely insane,” the judge said.

The dramatic story of how Khazzani was shot and killed by the Three American Friends has been turned into the Hollywood thriller “3:17 PM in Paris” by Clint Eastwood. Khazzani’s trial is expected to last a month, with testimonies expected from the two US servicemen and their friend, who have been hailed as heroes and obtained French nationality.

Eastwood was also summoned to appear on November 23. It is not known whether the four men will testify in the Paris courtroom or by video.

In the failed August 2015 attack, Khazzani crossed the train bare-chested with an arsenal of weapons. He shot down a passenger before the trio of American travelers – Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler – attacked him and helped him control him.

Khazzani is charged with attempted terrorist murder and, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Khazzani bought a train ticket at Brussels station on August 21, 2015, for a departure at 5.13 p.m. He was armed with a Kalashnikov, nine clips of 30 rounds each, an automatic pistol and a cutter, investigators said.

Once on the train, he lingered in the restroom between the cars and came out shirtless with a Kalashnikov. A waiting passenger struggled with the attacker. A French American, Mark Moogalian, then pushed the Kalashnikov back before being shot by a pistol as he made his way to Car No.12 to warn his wife. Moogalian said in interviews later that the attacker recovered the Kalashnikov.

Stone, then a 23-year-old American aviator, said after the attack he was waking from a deep sleep when the gunman appeared. Skarlatos, then a 22-year-old US National Guard who recently returned from Afghanistan, “just hit me on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go’.” Sadler, 23, who graduated from Sacramento State University, joined them.

The three Californians sprang into action after what Skarlatos later said was “gut instinct.” Stone and Skarlatos moved to grapple with the shooter and pick up his gun. Sadler helped subdue him. Stone said he suffocated Khazzani unconscious. A British businessman then joined the fray.

Stone, whose hand was injured by the cutter, is also credited with saving Moogalian, whose neck was spurting blood. Stone said he “just stuck two of my fingers in his hole and found what I thought was the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped. ”

The train redirected to Arras in northern France, where Khazzani was arrested.

The lawyer of the three American friends, Thibault de Montbrial, declared Monday at the courthouse that their “very courageous intervention” had foiled a “massacre”.

“This terrorist attack could have killed up to 300 people on the basis of [amount] of ammunition that was found on the terrorist and in his bag, ”he said.

Khazzani’s lawyer, Sarah Mauger-Poliak, said her client “regrets having been indoctrinated” by extremist propaganda and wants “to demonstrate his remorse”.

The foiled attack took place three months before the coordinated terrorist attack on Paris in November 2015, which left 130 people dead. The man considered the probable mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, was also the force behind the scenes of the train attack, which was planned in Syria, according to the prosecution.

Abaaoud traveled from Syria to Belgium with Khazzani to organize attacks in Europe, and was locked up with him and an accomplice in an apartment in Brussels, according to the prosecution. Abaaoud was killed by French special forces a few days after the Paris attacks.

Khazzani told investigators that Abaaoud wanted him to kill only the US military on board the train – an argument he should make during the trial. But prosecutors say it’s a dubious claim, in part because the presence of the military on the train could not be known in advance and they were in civilian clothes.

This defense also does not fit with Abaaoud’s objective of killing as many people as possible in attacks.

Three other people who were not on the train are also on trial for their roles as alleged accomplices.

Bilal Chatra, 24, an Algerian member of the Islamic State, was reportedly the second man on the train with Khazzani but abandoned the plot a week earlier. He had left Syria for Europe the week before to establish the exit route.

Mohamed Bakkali would have welcomed the attackers bound for Europe in Budapest, Hungary, which he denies. He and Chatra were arrested in Germany in 2016. A third man, Redouane El Amrani Ezzerrifi, is said to have piloted a boat to help them return to Europe.


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