Verdict due in trial of French train attacker

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A verdict is due Thursday in the month-long trial of an ISIS operative thwarted in his effort to attack a French train five years ago by a dramatic tackle by three American passengers.

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The prosecution has asked for life in prison for Ayoub El Khazzani, charged with attempted terrorist murder. The Moroccan-born El Khazzani, who was armed with an arsenal of weapons, claimed in court that he changed his mind about carrying out the attack, although he seriously wounded a French-American passenger who had grabbed his Kalashnikov.

Three alleged accomplices were tried with El Khazzani in a heavily guarded courtroom.

The prosecution is seeking 30 years for Bilal Chatra who allegedly would have been the second attacker on the Amsterdam to Paris fast train if he hadn’t backed out; 25 years for Mohamed Bakkali; and eight years for Redouane El Amrani Ezzerrifi.

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Few if any of the passengers in car 12 of the train on Aug. 21, 2015, would have reached their destination alive if the attack had gone off as planned, prosecutors, lawyers and some witnesses contended.

El Khazzani, armed with an assault rifle, nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, a hand gun and a cutter when he boarded the train in Brussels, was tackled, choked and knocked out with his own Kalashnikov by the two American servicemen and their friend.

The depictions of the heroics of childhood California friends Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlotta and Anthony Sadler were the highlight of the trial. But it was the underlying plot the prosecution portrayed that chilled.

Investigators had exposed an alleged network of connections that culminated, months after the train attack, in the attacks on a Paris music hall, cafes and restaurants and at a sports stadium that left 130 people dead.

The train attack was allegedly organized by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, portrayed as also the coordinator of the November 2015 attacks in Paris. El Khazzani was with Abaaoud in Syria and traveled with him back to Brussels. He told the court that Abaaoud concocted the plan for the train attack and he followed it to the letter — until he changed his mind.

Sadler, Sharlatos, and Norman, three men who helped to disarm an attacker on a train from Amsterdam to France, pose with their medals at a restaurant in Arras, France. (File photo: Reuters)
Sadler, Sharlatos, and Norman, three men who helped to disarm an attacker on a train from Amsterdam to France, pose with their medals at a restaurant in Arras, France. (File photo: Reuters)

El Khazzani’s testimony was often confused, but he agreed when the presiding judge said he appeared to be “a puppet” of Abaaoud, who was killed by French special forces shortly after the Paris massacre.

“I believed him. It’s stupid but I believed,” he said during testimony in November.

El Khazzani said Abaaoud told him to kill three to five American soldiers in the car, along with the “European Commission,” though no members were on the train. Abaaoud had told him they were responsible for bombings in Syria, including a mosque that El Khazzani said triggered his wish for revenge.

It remained unclear at the trial’s end how he identified the vacationing Americans as servicemen, as he claimed he had, because they were in civilian clothes.

The verdict comes a day after 14 people were convicted of involvement in the January 2015 massacre at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and another deadly attack. All three attackers were killed.

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