Suspected Amsterdam-Paris train attacker spent seven years in Spain

Suspect was known to French intelligence and lived in Madrid and Algeciras until 2014

Police inspect the train carriage in which the attack took place.
Police inspect the train carriage in which the attack took place.PHILIPPE HUGUEN (AFP)

A man armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, a handgun and a knife opened fire on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday before being overpowered by two passengers, both US soldiers. One of the soldiers, and another passenger, were both injured before the assailant was arrested.

The attacker is believed to be Ayoub El Kahzzani – the name that French anti-terrorism authorities passed to their Spanish and other European counterparts on Friday night in order to carry out identity checks. 

Spanish authorities described the suspect as “very radical and potentially dangerous”

Spain has information on this 26-year-old Moroccan national because he was legally resident in the country for seven years. Spanish anti-terrorism sources have told EL PAÍS that the suspect lived in Spain between 2007 and 2014, first in Madrid, then in the southern port city of Algeciras. He moved to France in March last year and from there traveled to Syria, allegedly to try to enlist with Islamic State. When he left Spain, Spanish authorities alerted the French intelligence services about his presence in France, describing him as “very radical and potentially dangerous.” He was also known to Belgian authorities.

The same sources also said that they had added his name to the police database of Schengen agreement countries back in 2012 because of his extremist links.

El Kahzzani was legally resident in Spain, possessing a foreigner’s identification number, and his record shows that he was also arrested three times for drug trafficking, twice in Madrid and once in the Spanish north African exclave of Ceuta, the sources said.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for caution over the suspect’s identity, which he said had still not been “established with certainty.” “If the identity he has declared is confirmed, it would correspond to that of an individual of Moroccan nationality, 26 years old, identified by Spanish intelligence to French authorities in February 2014 because of his links to radical Islam,” he told a press conference in Paris.

French intelligence had immediately sent out a file in order “to be able to locate him in the case of his eventual entry into French territory.”

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“It has been established that he lived for a year in Spain in 2014 and moved to Belgium in 2015,” the minister added.

The minister also confirmed that the attacker was armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle and nine cartridges, a Luger automatic pistol and a 9mm magazine, as well as a knife. The two people injured in the attack both remain in hospital but their lives are not in danger, Cazeneuve said.

One of the wounded is US soldier Spencer Stone, who suffered a neck injury during the struggle to overpower the attacker, while the other is a US-French citizen who is being treated for a gunshot wound.

The events occurred just before 6pm on Friday as the high-speed Thalys 9364 train with 554 passengers aboard traveling from Amsterdam to Paris was passing the town of Oignies, northern France.

A French passenger on his way to the bathroom saw the man carrying the Kalashnikov and tried to apprehend him. It was then that the first gunshots were fired and the two soldiers, who were both on vacation, intervened. Together the two servicemen managed to seize his rifle and knock him unconscious. They then tied him up and the train was diverted to the nearby station at Arras, where the suspect was arrested by security forces.

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