Paris, Aug 23: The man who boarded a high-speed Amsterdam-to-Paris train with a Kalashnikov rifle before being tackled by passengers was on the radar of authorities in three countries, had ties to radical Islam and had traveled to Syria, authorities said.
The attacker was identified by a French official close to the investigation as Ayoub El-Khazzani, 26, who was known to authorities in France, Belgium and Spain. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Officials did not disclose a possible motive for the Friday attack, but Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Spanish authorities had advised French intelligence about the suspect because he belongs to the "radical Islamist movement."
Three people were injured but no one died, and authorities credited brave American, French and British passengers with stopping El-Khazzani, who they said was armed with the assault rifle, nine magazines, a pistol and a box cutter. El-Khazzani was being questioned today by French counter-terrorism police who confirmed through fingerprints their suspicions that he was the same man who had been brought to their attention in February 2014, according to the French official.
French authorities said he had lived in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras, frequenting a mosque which is under surveillance there. He was transferred yesterday morning to anti-terror police headquarters outside Paris and can be held for up to 96 hours.
A lawyer for El-Khazzani told French television BFM that he had told her he only intended to rob the train and is "dumbfounded" that it is being treated as an act of terrorism. "When I told him about the media attention he didn't understand," said Sophie David, a lawyer in Arras who represented El-Khazzani during his initial questioning by police.
"He says he planned to hold up the train, then shoot out a window and jump out to escape." Spain's Interior Ministry said El-Khazzani had lived with his parents in Algeciras and had been arrested three times for drug-dealing while living there.
A ministry spokesman said it was not immediately clear how long he had lived there, or if other members of his family had also shared the same house. Spanish newspapers El Pais and El Mundo both reported that he had lived in the relatively poor neighbourhood of El Saladillo, which has around 6,000 inhabitants and an unemployment rate close to 40 per cent. There were discrepancies between French and Spanish accounts of the gunman's travels.