Ayoub El-Khazzani, 26, is being quizzed by French counter-terrorism police after he allegedly opened fire on the high-speed train with a Kalashnikov. The Morocco-born suspect reportedly wounded one man before he was disarmed and beaten unconscious by two American soldiers and a student. Alarmingly, he had already been on government officials’ radars in four European countries before he carried out Friday evening’s terror attack. He had been deemed a terrorist threat following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris – and had apparently fought with ISIS in Syria earlier this year. Questions are now being asked as to how El-Khazzani was able to move freely around Europe, despite being widely known as ‘potentially dangerous’. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Saturday that Spanish authorities had flagged the jihadi to French officials last February because he belongs to the ‘radical Islamist movement’ – something El-Khazzani appeared to support on his Facebook page, which has since been deleted.
El-Khazzani, who was reportedly radicalized while living in Spain, was subsequently placed on an intelligence watch list in France. The 26-year-old Moroccan national, who was known to security services, got on the train in Brussels and attempted his attack soon after crossing the French border. Reuters reports the man had also been under French police surveillance after foreign security services identified him as dangerous. French newspaper La Voix du Nord said Spanish authorities had pointed out the man to French police. It was not immediately clear whether he was still under surveillance at the time of Friday’s attack.
The paper also cited security sources saying the suspected Islamist militant was seen on a plane to Turkey from Germany in May, and was thought to have visited Syria. It added that he may have had connections to a group involved in a suspected Islamist shooting in Belgium in January. AFP has quoted an anti-terror source saying, ‘He lived in (southern) Spain in Algeciras for a year, until 2014, then he decided to move to France. He came out of the toilet brandishing the gun, a short stock AK-47, and opened fire, wounding two people on board. Fortunately, the hero passengers were nearby and overpowered him. According to witnesses he was carrying a short-stocked Kalashnikov assault rifle, at least five magazines of ammunition, a handgun and knives. The terrorist, named in reports as Ayoub el-Qahzzani, had at least nine full magazines of ammunition holding almost 300 rounds. He was arrested by police at a train station in Arras and taken to hospital where he is now in custody.
Thwarted train gunman Ayoub El-Qahzzani was part of an Islamic terrorist cell which came within hours of carrying out a ‘major’ attack in Belgium before it was shut down in a deadly fire-fight with police, according to French media reports. El-Qahzzani has been linked to a gang of Muslim fanatics in Belgium who opened fire on anti-terrorism officers when Special Forces closed in on them near the railway station in the eastern city of Verviers, in January 2015.
Two terrorist suspects were killed and a third was arrested in the operation, close to the Belgian border with Germany. Now El-Qahzzani has been linked to this terrorist cell, which was made up of Islamic extremists who had returned to Europe after fighting against the Assad regime in Syria. France’s La Voix du Nord newspaper reported: ‘According to our sources, he [Al Qahzzani] was part of the same jihadist group which attacked on Belgian anti-terrorist police in a violent fire-fight in January 2015, in Verviers, near Liege. ‘It appears that he had been identified as a potential security threat by the Spanish authorities who had alerted French authorities and had asked them for further information about him.’
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