France train attack gunman 'watched jihadi video on cell phone' before attack

The Moroccan gunman who was armed heavily onboard a Paris-bound train and was overpowered by three Americans, planned to carry out a "targeted and premeditated" jihadist attack, a French prosecutor said Tuesday while opening a formal terrorism investigation into the case.

Updated: Aug 26, 2015, 09:37 AM IST
France train attack gunman 'watched jihadi video on cell phone' before attack

Paris: The Moroccan gunman who was armed heavily onboard a Paris-bound train and was overpowered by three Americans, planned to carry out a "targeted and premeditated" jihadist attack, a French prosecutor said Tuesday while opening a formal terrorism investigation into the case.

The prosecutor named Francois Molin told reporters that that the Moroccan suspect had watched Islamic preaching videos on his cell phone while on train just before getting up to attack.

"Ayoub El-Khazzani had watched YouTube audio files whilst already on the Thalys train in which an individual called on the faithful to fight and take up arms in the name of the Prophet [Muhammad]," Molins told a news conference.

The 26-year-old Moroccan named Ayoub El-Khazzani was carrying 270 bullets for his AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol, a box-cutter and a bottle of gasoline while aboard a high-speed train named Thalys express from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday.

Several people were wounded as the gunman fired shots from his AK-47, before he was tackled by five men including three Americans and a Briton, thwarting what President Francois Hollande said "could have degenerated into monstrous carnage."

During questioning by authorities, El-Khazzani said he had no terrorism plans and had found a bag of weapons Thursday in a Brussels park and planned to use them to rob passengers, Molins said. But the suspect grew less and less lucid as he gave his explanation, the prosecutor added, and eventually stopped talking to investigators altogether.

One reason investigators suspect a premeditated attack was that El-Khazzani, who claimed to be homeless and living in a Brussels park, used a first-class ticket, Molins said. The suspect refused to take an earlier train, he added, although there were seats available — "the sign of a planned project."

He boarded the train Friday at a Brussels station.

Prosecutors also said they found a small explosive like those used in the tips of missiles hidden in the glass box containing the hammer used to break train windows in case of emergency. They did not elaborate.

With the formal investigation opened, investigating magistrates are expected to file numerous preliminary charges against El-Khazzani, including multiple counts of attempted murder in connection with terrorism, possession of weapons in connection with terrorism, and participation in a terrorist conspiracy.

The suspect had traveled through several European countries and had been repeatedly incarcerated in Spain and flagged for surveillance in France, Molins said. After five to seven months in 2014 in France, he lived in Brussels, Cologne and Vienna.

French surveillance helped authorities spot the suspect on a May 10 flight from Berlin to Istanbul, then a return flight from Antakya, Turkey, to Tirana, Albania, via Istanbul, Molins said. El-Khazzani denied going to Turkey.

He may also have tried to go to Syria.

With Agency Inputs