• France's news in English

Train gunman: Islamic extremist or homeless misfit?

AFP · 24 Aug 2015, 17:22

Published: 24 Aug 2015 17:22 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit
Is he an Islamic extremist who wanted to wage a jihadi attack? Or is he just a homeless man who found a stash of weapons and decided to rob the train, as he claims?
The small and scrawny 25-year-old boarded the train in Brussels bound for Paris on Friday armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.
Witnesses said he emerged from a toilet cubicle holding an AK-47 and sporting a backpack, and fired at least one shot, injuring a man.
He was then wrestled to the floor and subdued by three young Americans -- off-duty servicemen Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone and their student friend Anthony Sadler -- and a Briton, 62-year-old business consultant Chris Norman.
Attended radical mosque   
Khazzani had been flagged by intelligence services in Spain, France, Belgium and Germany as an Islamic extremist.
He moved to Spain from Morocco in 2007 when he was 18, and lived first in Madrid then in the southern port city of Algeciras.
"He was a very good boy, very hardworking," his father Mohamed El Khazzani told British newspaper The Telegraph.
"I have no idea what he was thinking and I have not spoken to him for over a year."
The suspected gunman "never talked politics; just football and fishing," his father told the Telegraph in between sobs.
But Spanish intelligence authorities paint a very different picture of a man who appeared to live off odd jobs and drug trafficking.
According to the Spanish daily El Mundo, Khazzani went to a radical mosque in Algeciras along with his father, and the red flag was raised when he made hardline, public comments defending jihad.
His father said that he left for France in 2014 for a six-month work contract for a telephone company, but that he was let go after just one month.
After that, where he was is anyone's guess.   
Spanish intelligence services say he went to Syria from France, but the suspect has reportedly denied going to the conflict-ridden country where the Islamic State group controls swathes of territory.
French sources, meanwhile, say that while they had flagged him after Spain warned them Khazzani was coming their way, he never showed up on their radars until May this year, when German authorities said he had boarded a plane bound for Turkey.
The 26 countries in Europe's Schengen Area have abolished border controls, which means people living in or visiting those nations can travel virtually undetected.
Then on Friday, Khazzani boarded the Amsterdam-Paris train in Brussels, where it is believed he was living.
No 'misfit'
He is said to have told investigators he is "dumbfounded" by accusations he was intending to carry out a terror attack, and has portrayed himself as a homeless man who was sleeping rough in Brussels, happened to find a bag of weapons and decided to rob a train.
Story continues below…
"The only kind of terrorism that he is guilty of is committing terrorism for food, he doesn't have money to eat well enough," his father told El Mundo.
His robbery claim was however dismissed by Sadler, the 23-year-old student who helped tackle him to the ground.
"It doesn't take eight magazines (of bullets) to rob a train," he told reporters on Sunday.
Skarlatos, one of those who overpowered him and an off-duty member of the National Guard in Oregon, says he "clearly had no firearms training whatsoever" -- suggesting he was not coached in using weapons by someone with expertise in the matter.
But according to the Le Parisien daily, Khazzani appeared to know what he was doing, as he was using a telephone that was only activated on Friday.
"This telephone had no numbers, no contacts," an unnamed official is quoted as saying.
"Using a mobile that is exclusively reserved for the day of the attack displays quite a professional character. He seems to be less of a misfit than he lets on."
Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Migrants bussed out of Calais Jungle to all corners of France
All photos: AFP

Hundreds of migrants are being bussed across France on Monday ahead of the demolition of the Jungle camp.

The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
A Prophet. Photo: YouTube Screengrab

Looking for something to watch?

The must-see French films of the millennium - Part Two
Rust and Bone. Photo: YouTube Screengrab

The newest French films you need to see before you die (or alternatively when you get some spare time).

Election Watch
Presidential hopeful reckons a pain au chocolat is 10 cents

So France happily takes the pastry out of him.

French ministry of defence officials die in plane crash
Screengrab: eddydeg/Twitter

The French Ministry of Defence officials were killed on Monday when a light aircraft went down on the island of Malta.

Revealed: The ten most stolen cars in France
A Smart car in Paris. Photo: JR_Paris/Flickr

Thieves in France are getting a taste for luxury cars, it seems.

Analysis - France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'to sell their French chateau'
All photos: AFP

Want to live where Brangelina got married?

How Paris is rapidly becoming Europe's 'City of Innovation'
Photo: AFP

If you want to start a company then Paris is the place to do it, it seems.

France's 'Jungle' children arrive in UK
Authorities will start to clear the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp on Monday. Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP file picture

The first group of children from the French "Jungle" migrant camp with no connection to Britain have arrived in the country, the Home Office said Sunday, ahead of the camp's planned demolition.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available