PARIS (AP) – An Islamic State operative bowed his head in silence as a Paris judge detailed his alleged plot to carry out a massacre on a high-speed train before being captured and conquered by American tourists whose heroes inspired him. Clint Eastwood to direct a Hollywood reconstruction.
Opening a one-month trial for Ayub El Hazani, the judge said the 31-year-old Moroccan, linked to a prominent terrorist leader, intended to “kill all passengers” on board the Amsterdam-to-Paris train in 2015, but “lost control of events. “
One of the Americans, who handled the gunman with a bare chest, who was loaded with an arsenal of weapons and shot another passenger, told investigators that he thought he was a drug and “completely insane,”
A lawyer for the two US servicemen and their friend, whose electrifying filming of El Hazani inspired Eastwood’s 15:17 to Paris, said their characters thwarted a “massacre” during the August 21, 2015 drama.
“This terrorist attack could have killed up to 300 people based on the number of ammunition found on the terrorist and in his bag,” said lawyer Thibaut de Montbrial.
With El Hazani’s participation in court and under the supervision of security officials, the opening of the trial was largely about procedural issues, including whether Eastwood’s presence was necessary. This issue was not resolved immediately. So far, the actor-director has not responded to a summons.
According to investigators, El Hazani boarded a train in Brussels armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, nine pliers with 30 rounds of ammunition, an automatic pistol and a knife.
He is accused of attempted terrorist murder. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
His lawyer, Sarah Mouger-Pole, said El Hazani “regretted allowing himself to be indoctrinated” by extremist propaganda and wanted to “demonstrate his remorse”.
Three others who were not on the train are on trial as alleged accomplices.
Bilal Chatra, 24, an Algerian member of the Islamic State group, would have been the second person on the train, but dropped out of the plot a week earlier. He left Syria for Europe a week earlier to determine the exit route.
Mohamed Bakali is said to have sheltered the attackers in Budapest, Hungary, which he denies. The two were arrested in Germany in 2016. A third man, Redouan El Amrani Ezerrifi, claims to have piloted a boat to help them return to Europe.
The trial involved the killing of 130 people in Paris three months later, on November 13, 2015, in the music hall and restaurants and cafes in Bataklan. According to the indictment, the alleged leader of these attacks, Abdel Hamid Abaaud, also worked behind the scenes in the train attack. Prosecutors say Abaaud and El Hazani traveled together from Syria to Belgium and hid with Chatra in an apartment in Brussels.
French special forces killed Abaaud days after the Bataklan attack.
Once on board the train, El Hazani lingered in the toilet between the cars and appeared naked with a Kalashnikov. A waiting passenger fought the assailant, and then an American from France, Marc Magulian, fought a Kalashnikov before being shot by a gun.
Spencer Stone, then a 23-year-old American aviator, said he came out of a deep sleep when the attacker appeared. He said Alec Scarlatos, then a 22-year-old U.S. National Guard, recently from Afghanistan, “just hit me on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go.’
The men, all from California, and following what Scarlatos said was an “intestinal instinct,” took action. Stone and Scarlatos moved to deal with weapons, aided by a third man, Anthony Sadler, 23, then a student. Stone said he strangled El Hazani unconscious. A British businessman also joined the fight.
Stone, whose hand was wounded by the knife, is also credited with rescuing Magoolian, whose neck was splattered with blood. Stone said he “just stuck two of my fingers in his hole and found what I thought was an artery, pushed it down, and the bleeding stopped.”
The train headed to Aras, in northern France, where El Hazani was arrested.
Nicolas Vaughn-Montani reports from Lyon, France.