Suspected jihadist goes on trial over train attack foiled by US tourists | World news

A suspected jihadist gunman whose attack on a packed international train was foiled by three US tourists has gone on trial in Paris.

Ayoub El-Khazzani, 31, is accused of opening fire with an assault rifle while carrying nearly 300 rounds of ammunition on the high-speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015. He was wrestled to the floor and restrained by three US passengers, helped by a British man.

According to the prosecution, the attack is believed to have been planned from Syria and orchestrated by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who led the November 2015 wave of bombings and shootings in Paris, including at the Bataclan music venue, that left 130 people dead.

Witnesses say Khazzani emerged from a bathroom onboard Thalys train 9364, shirtless and with an automatic rifle strapped across his shoulder, shortly after the train crossed the border from Belgium into northern France.

A French passenger managed to wrest the rifle from him, but Khazzani took out a pistol and shot him and retrieved the rifle.

When he opened fire, the rifle jammed, enabling the three US nationals – two of them off-duty military personnel who were on holiday – to tackle him. Four people were injured in the attack.

When questioned by police, the Moroccan-born Khazzani – who had also been carrying a box cutter – initially claimed he had found the weapons in Brussels where he boarded the train, and had simply intended to rob passengers.

“He doesn’t understand why this incident has taken on such great proportions,” his lawyer Sophie Duval told Le Parisien at the time. She said he denied “any terrorism dimension to what he did”, and the suggestion had “almost made him laugh”.

Khazzani, who was on France’s “Fiche S” security list, later reportedly told police he wanted to “kill Americans” in retaliation for bombings in Syria.

The three US nationals – Anthony Sadler, a student, Alex Skarlatos, a member of the national guard, and Spender Stone, an air force serviceman – and the Briton, Chris Norman, 67, were all made members of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, and given French citizenship.

Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone

Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone at a press conference in Paris in August 2015. Photograph: Laurent Viteur/Getty Images

Afterwards, Norman told reporters that his first reaction to seeing a man with an AK-47 on the train was “to sit down and hide”.

“Then I heard an American say: ‘Go get him.’ I decided it was really the only chance to act as a team and try to take down the assailant. My first thought was: I’m probably going to die anyway, so let’s go. I’d rather die being active, trying to get him down, than simply sit in the corner and be shot. Either you sit down and you die, or you get up and you die. It was really nothing more than that.”

Clint Eastwood turned their heroics into a film, The 15.17 to Paris.

Khazzani, who is accused of attempted murder in connection with terrorism, possession of weapons in connection with terrorism, and participation in a terrorist enterprise, appeared in court with three suspected accomplices.

The trial is expected to last until 17 December.

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