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Trial to begin over Paris train attack that inspired movie

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.

Trial to begin over Paris train attack that inspired movie
Off-duty US servicemen Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos (left and right) and their friend Anthony Sadler (centre), who helped tackle the attacker. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
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.

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TRAIN

9 things you might not know about the TGV as France’s high-speed train turns 40

France's high speed intercity train is celebrating its 40th birthday, so here are some more unusual facts about the much-loved TGV.

9 things you might not know about the TGV as France's high-speed train turns 40
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

In 1981, President François Mitterrand officially inaugurated the first high-speed rail line connecting Paris and Lyon. A few days later, a bright orange TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for “high-speed train”) raced down the tracks at over 200km/h.

In celebration of the TGVs landmark birthday, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Pierre Farandou – President of the SNCF, France’s national railway company – were on Friday at the Gare de Lyon in Paris to unveil the ‘TGV of the future’.

In front of a full-scale model of the new TGV M, Macron hailed a prime example of “French genius” and promised to unlock €6.5 billion to develop the TGV network, including new lines serving cities such as Nice and Toulouse.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

Emmanuel Macron (right) delivers a speech next to a life-size replica of the next TGV high-speed train at Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

“We’re going to continue this grand adventure with new industrial commitments,” since more people are looking beyond metropoles to smaller cities – an apparent allusion to post-Covid prospects.

“We see clearly that life and work are going to be restructured, and that our fellow citizens today want to organise their time for living and time for working differently,” he said.

The streamlined version of the bullet train promises to carry more passengers – up to 740 passengers from 600 – while using 20 percent less electricity.

It will continue to whiz people between cities at a top speed of 320 km/h, making most door-to-door trips shorter and cheaper than on airplanes.

To celebrate the birthday of the TGV (which in French is pronounce tay-shay-vay) blowing out its 40 candles, here are a few fun facts about the super-speedy trains.

Patrick  – That’s the name of the first TGV. Built in 1978 and set into action in 1981 on the Paris-Lyon line, the bright orange Patrick travelled some 13.5 million kilometres before taking his well-earned retirement last year.

574.8 km/h – That’s the world rail speed record, held by the Alstom V150 TGV. Although Japan’s superconductor-powered Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains travel faster – with a record of 603 km/h – they technically don’t run on rails.

3 – That’s how many times the TGV has set the world rail speed record: in 1981 (380 km/h), 1990 (515.3 km/h) and 2007 (574.8 km/h). 

2,734 km – That’s the total length of France’s high-speed rail network, with even more lines set to be constructed in the future. This means France has the fourth-longest high-speed rail network in the world, behind China, Spain, and Japan. 

0 – That’s how many passengers sit aboard the IRIS 320, which travels some 1,500 km every day. Laden with cameras and scanners, this 200-metre-long TGV rapidly inspects the state of the TGV’s train lines in order to ensure travellers’ safety and security.

€7 – That’s how much it costs to take a small pet – including a snail – on the TGV. Animals, even tiny ones, need their own tickets. In 2008 a TGV passenger fined for carrying live snails in his luggage without a ticket for his animals, although the fine was later waived after the story received national attention.

240 That’s the number of stations served by the TGV network. 183 of these stations can be found in France. The others are located in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

3 billion – That’s how many travellers the TGV had hoped to reach by the end of 2021. The pandemic may have derailed their plans slightly, but the service is still looking strong. The network served it’s 2 billionth passenger in 2012, just over 30 years after its launch.

1947 – the last year without a single recorded strike on the rail network in France. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that pre-1947 was a golden age of industrial relations – just that SNCF’s records are incomplete before then.

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