France: Islamist Shooter In Foiled Train Attack Has Been Identified

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Aug 22, 2015 4:10 PM
France: Islamist Shooter In Foiled Train Attack Has Been Identified

On August 21, two American service members stopped what could have been unspeakable carnage on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. Two people were injured in the attack. The Associated Press  reported that a person with dual French/American citizenship was shot, and the gunman in the attack cut an American serviceman, now identified as U.S. Airman Spencer Stone. The harrowing incident lasted less than two minutes, though things could have turned for the worse if the would-be shooter’s rifle hadn’t malfunctioned (via NYT):

The two American service members who tackled a gunman on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris rushed him even though he was fully armed, then grabbed him by the neck and beat him over the head with his own automatic rifle until he was unconscious, one of them said in television interviews here on Saturday.

The suspect entered the train car carrying an AK-47 and a handgun, according to Alek Skarlatos, the service member who was interviewed. “I looked over at Spencer and said, ‘Let’s go,’” said Mr. Skarlatos, identified as a specialist in the Oregon Army National Guard returning from Afghanistan. With him was a friend, Airman First Class Spencer Stone. “And he jumped,” Mr. Skarlatos said. “I followed behind him by about three seconds. Spencer got the guy first, grabbed the guy by the neck, I grabbed the handgun.”

[…]

The suspect was identified by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve of France on Saturday as a 26-year-old Moroccan man known to Spanish authorities as belonging to “the radical Islamist movement.” Mr. Cazeneuve, however, cautioned that the French police had not yet fully confirmed his identity. French officials had identified the man as a security risk, but he was not under surveillance and had apparently spent little time in France.

[…]

After being arrested in Arras on Friday night, the suspect was taken early Saturday to the headquarters of the antiterrorism police outside Paris, Mr. Cazeneuve said, and was being interrogated. French news reports said that he had denied having terrorist aims and that he had said he merely intended to rob the passengers.

But the arsenal described by the minister suggested otherwise: a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger automatic pistol, nine cartridges and a sharp blade — a “cutter,” the interior minister said, which he used to wound Mr. Spencer.

The violent encounter was over in barely two minutes. But if not for the quick action by the two American servicemen and the suspect’s malfunctioning automatic rifle, many lives could have been lost. “It could have been a real carnage,” said Chris Norman, a British businessman who helped restrain the suspect after he had been subdued.

Mr. Norman, interviewed on television, said: “The guy actually came up, he pulled out a cutter, started cutting Spencer. He cut Spencer behind the neck, he nearly cut his thumb off. We eventually got him under control.

Now, the 26-year-old Moroccan man has been identified as Ayoub El-Khazzani, according to AP:

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said earlier Saturday that Spanish authorities had alerted French intelligence to him in February 2014 because he "belonged to the radical Islamist movement," and the French put him on a security watch list. El-Khazzani was identified through his fingerprints, according to the official, who insisted on not being identified by name because of the ongoing probe.

The official also said that the French spotted El-Khazzani in Berlin on May 10, headed to Turkey, and informed their Spanish colleagues. On May 21, the Spaniards responded saying that he no longer lived in Spain but in Belgium, according to the French official.

We'll keep you updated.