Trial to begin over foiled Paris train attack that inspired movie

Marie DHUMIERES
·4-min read
Spencer Stone (L), Anthony Sadler (C) and Alek Skarlatos (R) are credited with thwarting the terrorist attack in August 2015

Trial to begin over foiled Paris train attack that inspired movie

Spencer Stone (L), Anthony Sadler (C) and Alek Skarlatos (R) are credited with thwarting the terrorist attack in August 2015

A Moroccan man goes on trial in France on Monday accused of an attempted terror attack on an Amsterdam-Paris train five years ago which was foiled by passengers whose heroic actions were turned into a Hollywood film.

Director Clint Eastwood, 90, is on the witness list for the trial in Paris, and it is believed his 2018 film "The 15:17 to Paris" will serve as a reconstruction of the events of August 21, 2015.

Ayoub El Khazzani was tackled by passengers, including two off-duty American servicemen, shortly after emerging bare-chested and heavily armed from a toilet on a Thalys high-speed train.

Some 150 passengers were in the carriage with him.

Khazzani had an AK47 slung over his back, a bag of nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, and appeared to be "in a trance", according to a young Frenchman waiting in the passageway, and the first to try to subdue Khazzani.

Another passenger, a Franco-American professor, came to the Frenchman's aid, grabbing Khazzani's assault rifle.

The attacker took a pistol out of his belt, shot and wounded the professor and reclaimed the AK47, only to be tackled afresh and disarmed by two American soldiers -- Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos -- who heard the commotion from a neighbouring carriage.

The soldiers were aided by their friend Anthony Sadler, with whom they were backpacking through Europe.

Stone was slashed in the neck and on the eyebrow and almost had his thumb sliced off with a box-cutter wielded by Khazzani.

"He had 270 rounds of ammunition on him, enough to kill 300 people," according to Thibault de Montbrial, the lawyer for the three Americans hoping to attend the trial at a special anti-terror court from Monday.

According to the lawyer, there was no doubt his clients had prevented a "mass attack."

Khazzani, who joined the Islamic State group in Syria in May 2015, is charged with "attempted terrorist murder", and will be joined in the dock by three other men accused of helping him.

De Montbrial said the Americans, who played themselves in Eastwood's film, wish to attend the trial because they "want to tell" their story and "look into the eyes of the man they faced".

However, they may not make it to Paris due to coronavirus restrictions.

- 'Remain calm' -

The Thalys assault happened in the same year as the January 2015 massacre of staff at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, the killing of a policewoman, and the deadly hostage siege at the Hyper Cacher market -- which left a total of 17 dead.

In November the same year, jihadists armed with assault rifles and explosives struck outside the national stadium, Paris cafes and the Bataclan concert hall, killing 130 people and wounding more than 350 in the deadliest peacetime attack in France's history.

Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the Thalys and November 13 attacks, as well as others in Europe, including the Brussels bombings of March 2016 that killed 32 civilians.

Abaaoud was killed by police in a Paris suburb five days after he shot indiscriminately at packed cafe terraces in Paris on the night of the coordinated November 13 attacks.

The Khazzani trial comes at a time of heightened security alert in France following three attacks blamed on jihadists in a month -- a knife attack outside Charlie Hebdo's former offices, the beheading of a history teacher, and a deadly stabbing spree at a church in Nice.

"We must remain calm and rigorous regardless of recent tragedies," said Lea Dordilly, a lawyer for co-accused Bilal Chatra, who was 19 at the time of the thwarted train attack.

He was allegedly recruited in Turkey by Abaaoud, and is suspected of being an advance scout for Khazzani in getting into Europe via the migrant trail from Syria.

Khazzani does not deny having boarded the train with the intent of committing an attack, but claims to have had a change of heart at the last minute, too late to avoid the confrontation with the Americans.

His lawyer Sarah Mauger-Poliak claims Khazzani is a changed man who has rejected radical Islamist doctrine and regrets his actions.

The trial is scheduled to last until December 17.

mdh/pa/mlr/sjw/spm/rbu