Islamist extremist or jobless misfit?

Ayoub el Khazzani had been to Syria, sources said.
Ayoub el Khazzani had been to Syria, sources said.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • The father of the suspected Islamist militant gunman overpowered by passengers on a high-speed train in France has been quoted as saying he could not believe his son was a terrorist.

Ayoub el Khazzani, 25, is being questioned by French anti-terror investigators after he opened fire on a high-speed train last Friday before being overpowered by passengers.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo spoke to Mr Mohammed el Khazzani, father of Ayoub el Khazzani, at his home in Algeciras, southern Spain. "I wasn't on the train, but I don't think he was capable of doing something like that," he was quoted as saying in Arabic yesterday by the newspaper.

"They are saying Ayoub is a terrorist, but I simply can't believe it," said Mr Khazzani, 64, a scrap merchant who lives in the poor El Saladillo district of Algeciras with his wife and some of his six children.

"Why would he want to kill anyone? It makes no sense," he said of his son, who lived with him in Algeciras until he left for France last year.

"The only terrorism he is guilty of is terrorism for bread; he doesn't have enough money to feed himself properly," he added, echoing a claim by his son's lawyer, who said that the gunman only intended to rob train passengers because he was hungry.

Asked about this defence, his father said "it's all very strange" before breaking into sobs, British newspaper The Telegraph reported.

Mr Khazzani said he knew he would never see his son again. "It is as if he were dead. Now he will go to prison for a long time," he added.

He said he had not spoken to his son since he left Algeciras, although his wife spoke to him by phone about a month ago.

He said his son had left for France to work for a company there on a six-month contract, but was fired within a month.

"He went because there was no work here," he said.

Describing his son as a "good kid" who liked to fish and play football, he said he was very religious and did not smoke or drink alcohol.

El Mundo said Ayoub el Khazzani left Algeciras last year when the Spanish police were "hard on his heels" because they suspected him of militant sympathies.

Sources told Reuters that Ayoub el Khazzani was arrested at least once for drug trafficking in Spain, and some Spanish newspapers said he may have been radicalised while in prison. His father denied he had ever possessed drugs.

He had been flagged as an Islamic extremist by intelligence services in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain, said The Telegraph.

According to Spanish security sources, he travelled to France in 2014 and went to Syria.

French security sources said he flew from Berlin to Istanbul on May 10 this year.

Turkey is a preferred destination for would-be militants heading for Syria. REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Islamist extremist or jobless misfit?'. Print Edition | Subscribe