Ayoub El Khanazzi, the Moroccan jihadist suspected in the high-speed train attack thwarted by two off-duty US servicemen last year in France has said he was targeting Americans, a source close to the investigation told AFP.
His lawyer, Sarah Mauger-Poliak, told investigators it was “no accident” that her client boarded the first-class part of the train as he had a “precise, well-defined target,” the source said.
El Khazzani boarded a Paris-bound Thalys express train traveling from Amsterdam in August 2015, carrying with him a kalashnikov rifle, a stash of weapons and 270 rounds of ammunition.
After emerging from the cubicle the gunman opened fire in the first class carriage — seriously injuring a passenger — before being tackled by three Americans: off-duty servicemen Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, and their friend Anthony Sadler.
Their actions almost certainly prevented a massacre on the train. The three men were subsequently awarded the Legion d’honneur — France’s highest distinction — in recognition of their bravery.
However, according to El Khazzani’s lawyer, the jihadist told investigators he had not intended to “carry out a massacre and kill just anyone.” He instead testified he was “targeting Americans,” his lawyer said.
Ms. Mauger-Poliak also told The Associated Press on Thursday that El Khazzani indicated he had received specific orders from an Islamic State member to carry out the attack on this Paris-bound Thalys train.
This is the first time El Khazzani agreed to be questioned by a judge about the foiled attacks. At his request, he was interrogated by a Paris counterterrorism judge for more than five hours on Wednesday.
This account differs significantly from earlier versions of the story. The gunman had previously denied wanting to carry out a “large-scale” terrorist attack, saying he only wanted to rob passengers on the train with weapons he claimed he found in a Belgian park where he was sleeping rough.
During the interrogation, the gunman also described how he traveled with Abdelhamid Abaaoud — the mastermind of the Paris terrorist attacks that killed 130 people last year — from Syria through Turkey and into Europe.
El Khazzani is still in custody in France and is due to be questioned again on December 20.