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Thalys train attack: Gunman behind foiled terrorism attempt sentenced to life in prison

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By Euronews
A police officer videos the crime scene inside a Thalys train at Arras train station, after a gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon
A police officer videos the crime scene inside a Thalys train at Arras train station, after a gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

The gunman behind a foiled terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015 has been sentenced to life behind bars.

Ayoub El Khazzani was convicted of attempted terrorist murder on Thursday, at a French court.

On August 21, 2015, Khazzani boarded the high-speed Thalys service to Paris at Brussels, armed with an assault rifle, nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, a hand gun and a cutter.

Few if any of the passengers in car No. 12 of the train from Amsterdam to Paris would have reached their destination alive if the attack had gone off as planned, prosecutors, lawyers and some witnesses contended during the trial.

His terror attack was foiled by two US servicemen and their friend, who managed to tackle, choke and knock him unconscious with his own Kalashnikov rifle.

The depictions of the heroics of childhood California friends Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlotta and Anthony Sadler were the highlight of the trial.

Randall Benton/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
French Consul General Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, left, congratulating Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos at their French naturalisation ceremony in 2019Randall Benton/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Three other men, meanwhile, were convicted of helping El Khazzani and the attack mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was also behind the November 13 murders in the French capital.

Bilal Chatra and Mohamed Bakkali were sentenced for 27 years and 25 years, respectively, for being complicit in the attack. A third man, Redouane El Amrani Ezzerrifi, was given a seven-year sentence.

Masterminded by Abaaoud

The train attack was allegedly organised by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is also accused of being the coordinator of the November 2015 attacks in Paris. 

El Khazzani was with Abaaoud in Syria and traveled with him back to Brussels. He told the court that Abaaoud concocted the plan for the train attack.

El Khazzani's testimony was often confused, but he agreed when the presiding judge said he appeared to be “a puppet” of Abaaoud, who was killed by French special forces shortly after the Paris massacre.

“I believed him. It’s stupid but I believed,” he said during testimony in November.

El Khazzani said Abaaoud told him to kill three to five American soldiers in the car, along with the “European Commission,” though no members were on the train. 

Abaaoud had told him they were responsible for bombings in Syria, including a mosque that El Khazzani said triggered his wish for revenge.

It remained unclear at the trial's end how he identified the vacationing Americans as servicemen, as he claimed he had, because they were in civilian clothes.

The verdict comes a day after 14 people were convicted of involvement in the January 2015 massacre at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and another deadly attack. All three attackers were killed.

The heroic actions of the Americans were turned into a 2018 movie by director Clint Eastwood, titled The 15:17 to Paris.