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      Gunman in French Train Attack Charged With Attempted Murder and Terrorism

      Gunman in French Train Attack Charged With Attempted Murder and Terrorism Gunman in French Train Attack Charged With Attempted Murder and Terrorism Gunman in French Train Attack Charged With Attempted Murder and Terrorism
      Photo by Sébastien Santoro

      Europe

      Gunman in French Train Attack Charged With Attempted Murder and Terrorism

      By Pierre-Louis Caron

      Ayoub El-Khazzani, the 25-year-old Moroccan gunman involved in last Friday's attack on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris, has been charged with "attempted murder with terrorist intent" and remanded in custody, the French prosecutor in charge of the investigation said Tuesday.

      Speaking at an evening press conference, Paris prosecutor François Molins said that Khazzani had also been charged with weapons offenses and "participation in a terrorist association with a view to organizing one or several damaging crimes against individuals."

      According to Molins, the attacker boarded the train with an AKM assault rifle, nine cartridges of bullets, a handgun, a box cutter, and a half-liter bottle of gasoline.

      Khazzani was tackled, disarmed, and tied up by American service members on Friday after he had emerging from a train bathroom wielding an assault rifle. Three people were injured in the incident on board the Thalys express train, which was carrying 500 passengers.

      Since his arrest, Khazzani has maintained that he stumbled upon the weapons in a park in Brussels, where he boarded the train, and decided to rob passengers. Sophie David, the lawyer assigned to his case, says that he did not intend to carry out a jihadist attack.

      "He is dumbfounded that his act is being linked to terrorism," she remarked to local media.

      Molins has dismissed the suspect's claims as "absurd." He thanked the Spanish authorities for flagging the suspect as an Islamist extremist to France in February 2014.

      Investigators also revealed that Khazzani's phone history indicates that he watched a video glorifying radical Islam moments before the attack on a mobile phonepurchased and activatedthe day of the attack.

      During the press conference, Molins described the attack as "targeted and premeditated," and noted that when Khazzani — who has described himself as homeless and unemployed— purchased his first-class ticket, he passed on a ticket for an earlier train.

      Investigators in France and Belgium are currently examining whether Khazzani had accomplices who might have helped him acquire weapons and the money to pay for his ticket.

      Authorities have also been trying to retrace the gunman's movements in the weeks before the attack. According to French daily Le Monde, Khazzani visited a number of European countries in the six months leading to the attack, including Belgium, Germany, Austria, France, and Andorra — a small, autonomous principality nestled between France and Spain.

      Investigators believe the suspect recently traveled to Turkey and may have gone on to Syria to join radical Islamist groups.

      A sister of Khazzani's who lives in Belgium went to the police on Tuesday and was released after being questioned. According to the Belgian daily Le Soir, Belgian authorities searched two houses where Khazzani might have stayed in the days before the attack.

      France's railway security is being scrutinized in the wake of the foiled plot, and France's national railway company SNCF and the French government are considering new measures to increase security at train stations.

      On Monday, Belgian daily La Dernière Heure sent one of its reporters on a train ride from Brussels to the northern French city of Lille with a fake gun poking out of his backpack. In an article headlined "Bringing weapons onto a high-speed train? Child's play!," the newspaper said that its reporter — who was wearing a hoodie and dark sunglasses — was also carrying a real knife with an 8-inch blade. "As for the enhanced checks promised by the [Belgian] government, one can only assume they suffered heavy delays," the article said.

      Speaking on French radio France Inter Wednesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that interior and transport ministers from European countries would gather in Paris Saturday to discuss "concrete proposals" to improve the safety of Europe's rail networks.

      Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c
      Image via Wikimedia Commons

      Topics: europe, france, amsterdam, paris, brussels, belgium, spain, thalys, high speed train, train attack, gunman, moroccan, ayoub el-khazzani, assault rifle, gasoline, vice news france, terrorism, terror

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