Date
28 March 2017
U.S. ambassador to France Jane Hartley presents US Airman First Class Spencer Stone, student Anthony Sadler and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos (left to right) at a ceremony in Paris. The three men helped overpower a gunman on a high speed train. Photo:
U.S. ambassador to France Jane Hartley presents US Airman First Class Spencer Stone, student Anthony Sadler and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos (left to right) at a ceremony in Paris. The three men helped overpower a gunman on a high speed train. Photo:

France train gunman denies terrorist tag, says he was hungry

A gunman is denying terrorist motives, saying he only wanted to rob passengers on a high-speed train in France, when he attacked them two days ago.

Reuters is reporting that a lawyer for 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub el Khazzanifor described the suspect as “dumbfounded” when he learnd he is being treated as a terrorist.

Sophie David said her client — now in detention near Paris — also looked ill and malnourished.

French and Spanish sources Khazzani is known to European authorities as a suspected Islamist militant.

Khazzani told David he had found the Kalashnikov he had taken onto the train in a park near the Gare du Midi rail station in Brussels where he had been sleeping.

“A few days later he decided to get on a train that some other homeless people told him would be full of wealthy people traveling from Amsterdam to Paris and he hoped to feed himself by armed robbery,” David said.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Saturday there had been “several shots” before the Moroccan was subdued by the passengers, who included three Americans.

Of the two passengers injured in Friday’s incident, only one remained in hospital by Sunday — a Franco-American who was hit by a bullet and was in a serious but stable condition.

Cazeneuve said the man in custody, whom he did not name, had been “identified by the Spanish authorities to French intelligence services in February 2014 because of his connections to the radical Islamist movement”.

Khazzani is believed to have lived in Spain for his early adult life and was arrested at least once for drug trafficking, according to Reuters sources.

Some Spanish newspapers said he may have been radicalized while in prison.

Spanish security sources say Khazzani lived in Madrid between 2007 and 2010 before moving to the southern Spanish port of Algeciras.

A community leader in the city told Reuters he had lived there with his family in El Saladillo, a neighborhood plagued by high unemployment and drug-related crime.

According to the Spanish security sources, he traveled to France in 2014 and went to Syria.

French security sources said he went to Berlin airport for a flight to Istanbul on May 10 this year. Turkey is a preferred flight destination for would-be jihadists heading for Syria.

At the mosque in El Saladillo, Kamal Cheddad, President of the Muslim Community for the south of the city, said he knew the young Moroccan, although the family did not attend the local mosque which Cheddad presides over.

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