PARIS (AP) – An Islamic State operative began the trial on Monday in Paris on charges of terror, as in 2015 he dragged his bare breasts through a train with an arsenal of weapons and shot a passenger. He was shot down by three American vacationers in an electrifying capture that Clint Eastwood turned into a Hollywood thriller.
The scene from five years ago with the fast train from Amsterdam to Paris is the focus of a month-long trial against Ayoub El Khazzani, with testimony expected from the two US servicemen and their friend, who are hailed as heroes.
Their lawyer, Thibaut de Montbrial, told the court on Monday that their “very bold intervention”
“This terrorist attack could have killed up to 300 people based on the number of ammunition found on the terrorist and in his bag,” he said.
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. Eastwood turned the drama on August 21, 2015 in a car във 12 in the movie “The 15:17 to Paris”.
El Hazani, a 31-year-old Moroccan, spent several months in Syria and boarded a fully armed train in Brussels, authorities said. He is accused of attempted terrorist murder for the thwarted attack. 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 were also tried 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 had left Syria for Europe a week earlier to determine the exit route.
Mohammed Bakali is said to have received the European-linked 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 served as a bridge to the massacre of 130 people in Paris three months later, on November 13, 2015, in the Bataklan Music Hall and restaurants and cafes. According to the indictment, the man believed to be the probable leader of these attacks, Abdel Hamid Abaaud, was the backstage force in the planned train attack in Syria.
Abaaud traveled from Syria to Belgium with El Hazani to organize attacks in Europe, and was hidden with him and Chatra in an apartment in Brussels, according to the indictment. Abaaud was killed by French special forces days after the Bataklan attack. But before his death, his sinister organizational skills were at work in an unsuccessful plan to attack a church south of Paris in April 2015 that left a young woman dead. Sid Ahmed Glam was convicted earlier this month and sentenced to life in prison.
According to investigators, El Hazani was armed with a Kalashnikov, nine pliers with 30 rounds each, an automatic pistol and a knife.
Once on the train, he lingered in the toilet between the cars and came out with a bare chest with a Kalashnikov. A waiting passenger fights the assailant, and then an American from France, Marc Magulian, fights a Kalashnikov – before being shot by a pistol as he heads for a car 12 to warn his wife. In interviews later, Magulian said the attacker had recovered the Kalashnikov.
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, took action from what Scarlatos told a news conference days later was a “gut instinct.” Stone and Scarlatos moved to deal with the assailant and take his pistol. A third man, 23-year-old Anthony Sadler, then a student, helped control the attacker. Stone said he strangled El Hazani unconscious. A British businessman then joined the fight.
Stone, whose hand was wounded by the knife, is also credited with rescuing the French-American teacher, 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.