Trial in France for extremist foiled by 3 Americans in a train

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PARIS – A member of the Islamic State is on trial Monday in France for terrorism for stealing shirtless from a train in 2015 with an arsenal of weapons and shooting a passenger. He was shot and killed by three American vacationers in an electrifying capture that Clint Eastwood turned into a Hollywood thriller.The scene five years ago on the fast train from Amsterdam to Paris is at the center of Ayoub El Khazzani’s month-long trial, with the awaited testimony of the two US servicemen and their friend, who were hailed like heroes.

Eastwood, who turned the drama on August 21, 2015 in car 12 into a movie “Les 3:17 PM in Paris,” was also called up on November 23.

It was not known whether they would be present or testify by video.

El Khazzani, a 31-year-old Moroccan, spent several months in Syria and boarded the train in Brussels armed to the end, authorities said. He is charged with attempted terrorist murder for the foiled attack. If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Three others, 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 group, was reportedly the second man on the train but abandoned the plot a week earlier. He had left Syria for Europe a week before to establish the exit route.

Mohamed Bakkali would have welcomed the attackers bound for Europe in Budapest, Hungary, which he denies. The two men 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.

The trial serves as a bridge to the massacre of 130 people in Paris three months later, on November 13, 2015, at the Bataclan music hall and restaurants and cafes. The man believed to be the likely mastermind of the attacks, Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, was the behind-the-scenes force in the planned train attack in Syria, the prosecution said.

Abaaoud traveled from Syria to Belgium with El Khazzani to organize attacks in Europe, and was locked up with him and Chatra in an apartment in Brussels, according to the prosecution. Abaaoud was killed by French special forces a few days after the Bataclan attack. But before her death, her macabre organizational skills were at work in a failed plan to attack a church south of Paris in April 2015 that left a young woman dead. Sid Ahmed Ghlam was found guilty earlier this month and sentenced to life in prison.

The train’s attacker, El Khazzani, “knowingly followed Abaaoud, but it had been years since he was in a jihadist state of mind,” said his lawyer, Sarah Mauger-Poliak, in a statement. telephone interview. “He is very upset and regrets having let himself be indoctrinated into the propaganda.

The propaganda evolved into a plot to kill trapped passengers.

El Khazzani bought a train ticket at Brussels station on August 21, 2015 for a departure at 5.13 pm. 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 toilet between the cars and came out shirtless with a Kalashnikov. A waiting passenger struggled with the attacker, then a French-American, Mark Magoolian, pushed the Kalashnikov back – before being shot by a pistol as he made his way to the No.12 car to warn his wife . Magoolian said in interviews later that the attacker recovered the Kalashnikov.

Spencer Stone, a 23-year-old American aviator at the time, said days after the attack he was waking from a deep sleep when the gunman appeared. Alek 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’.

The three, all from California, jumped into action after what Skarlatos said at a press conference days later as “gut instinct.” Stone and Skarlatos moved to grapple with the shooter and pick up his gun. The third friend, Anthony Sadler, 23, then a student, helped subdue the abuser. Stone said he suffocated El Khazzani. A British businessman then joined the fray.

Stone, whose hand was injured by the cutter, is also credited with saving the Franco-American professor whose neck was spurting with 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 El Khazzani was arrested.

El-Khazzani left Morocco at 18 to join his family in Spain. In 2012, he established links with radicals. He went to Brussels before going to Turkey, a gateway to Syria. A watch list signal “sounded” on May 10, 2015, in Berlin, where El-Khazzani was going to Turkey, said the then French Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve.

El Khazzani told investigators that Abaaoud wanted him to kill only the U.S. military, a line he was likely to maintain during the trial. The examining magistrates consider this a questionable claim, in part because their presence 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.

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Nicolas Vaux-Montagny contributed to this report from Lyon.

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