Suspect 'watched jihad clip' before train attack

A police van believed to be transporting Moroccan Ayoub el Khazzani leaves the courthouse in Paris, France on Aug 26, 2015.
A police van believed to be transporting Moroccan Ayoub el Khazzani leaves the courthouse in Paris, France on Aug 26, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

French train gunman charged; prosecutors say his plan appears well-targeted and premeditated

PARIS • In the moments before he loaded his gun to shoot up a train full of passengers, the suspect in last Friday's failed attack on the Amsterdam-Paris express, Ayoub El Khazzani, watched a YouTube video exhorting the faithful to commit violent acts in the name of radical Islam, prosecutors said.

Khazzani, a Moroccan national, was charged on Tuesday with attempted murder of a terrorist nature and remanded in custody. He was also charged with weapons offences related to terrorism, and "participation in a terrorist association with a view to organising one or several damaging crimes".

Chief prosecutor Francois Molins said Khazzani's plan appears to have been "well-targeted and premeditated". He outlined a raft of evidence against the suspect, adding that Khazzani had grown increasingly evasive in his responses to police.

Khazzani, who has a Spanish residency card, lived in Spain for seven years until last year. He came to the attention of the authorities there for making hardline comments defending jihad and attending a radical mosque in the port of Algeciras. He has also been convicted and imprisoned several times in Spain, notably for narcotics trafficking, Mr Molins said.

Last year, Khazzani spent time in France working for a mobile phone company, then lived in Belgium, Germany, Austria and Brussels.

In May this year, he came to the intelligence services' attention once more when the German authorities warned he had boarded a plane for Turkey, seen as a possible sign that he travelled to war-torn Syria. In June, he landed back in Albania.

Last Friday, he paid €149 (S$240) for a first-class train ticket in Brussels - prosecutors said this was suspicious, given his claims to be sleeping rough in Brussels.

Ticket sellers at the station have told investigators that Khazzani paid in cash and turned down an earlier journey where seats were available, which Mr Molins said was an indication the attack had been carefully planned. Mr Molins also dismissed as "fantastical" Khazzani's claim that he found the weapons in a Brussels park and merely wanted to rob the passengers.

Khazzani was seen arriving at the Paris courthouse on Tuesday flanked by policemen, barefoot, handcuffed and with a mask over his eyes.

Meanwhile, the Californian capital Sacramento said it would hold a parade of honour for the three Americans who tackled the gunman: Mr Alek Skarlatos, a 22-year-old National Guardsman; Mr Spencer Stone, a 23-year-old US Air Force member; and Mr Anthony Sadler, also 23, a student at the state university.

Mr Skarlatos will receive the US Army's highest non-combat honour, the Soldier's Medal, the military said in a statement on Tuesday.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Suspect 'watched jihad clip' before train attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe