PARIS (AP) — The gunman charged over a foiled 2015 train attack told a French court Wednesday that he had targeted only American soldiers, after refusing instructions from an Islamic State ringleader to kill members of the European Commission he was falsely told were in the train car.
Ayoub El Khazzani, who had been armed with an arsenal of weapons including a Kalashnikov assault rifle, said the attack on the fast train from Amsterdam to Paris was planned as an act of vengeance for bombings of civilians in Syria, which he saw during a brief stay there.
The month-long trial for attempted terrorist murder opened Nov. 16. El Khazzani risks life in prison if convicted. Three accomplices, who were not on the train, sat beside him in the heavily-guarded Paris courtroom.
El Khazzani, a Moroccan, wounded a French-American who managed to briefly yank the Kalashnikov from his hands before the three vacationing Americans — who were long-time friends — took him down. Two of the three men were in the military but wearing civilian clothes.
The Aug. 21, 2015 attack was allegedly planned by terrorist mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud with whom he traveled back to Europe. Abaaoud was killed by French special forces shortly after the Nov. 13 Paris massacre at a music hall and restaurants that left 130 people dead, just months after the foiled train attack.
Abaaoud was thought to be the coordinator of the November attacks and was portrayed in court as the man behind the plot to carry out an attack on the train. One passenger, Mark Moogalian, who wrenched the Kalashnikov from the attacker as he emerged from a toilet, was injured in the back. El Khazzani told the court he had only meant to shoot him in the hand.
The drama on the train is portrayed by investigators as one of a series of IS-linked attacks in Europe.
“He put hate in my heart,” El Khazzani said of Abaaoud.
He said Abaaoud told him there were to be members of the European Commission in car 12 and three to five American soldiers.
The defendant could not explain how he was expected to recognize them or other targets. There were no known European officials in the first-class car. He said that in any event “I changed my mind” about killing anyone else on his mission. Asked whether he had repented, he said yes.