Heavily armed, hitman Ayoub El Khazzani boarded the Thalys high-speed train in 2015. A massacre was prevented by the intervention of passengers. Now his verdict was given.

About five years after the failed attack on a Thalys high-speed train to Paris, the perpetrator Ayoub El Khazzani was sentenced to life imprisonment. The court in Paris saw it as proven that the 31-year-old Moroccan wanted to kill “blindly and indiscriminately” all about 200 passengers on the train, as Judge Franck Zientara said in the verdict on Thursday. Three of El Khazzani’s assistants were sentenced to seven to 27 years in prison.

Ayoub El Khazzani boarded the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015, armed with a Kalashnikov, a pistol and a carpet knife. According to the prosecution, a massacre was only prevented because Khazzani’s weapons failed to activate several times and he was overpowered by passengers. In the attempted attack, the perpetrator injured two people with a knife and a gun.

The killer reportedly had scruples

El Khazzani, who was charged with attempted murder and membership in a terrorist organization, admitted at trial that he intended to kill passengers. But he said he had last minute scruples.

He named the Islamist Abdelhamid Abaaoud of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist militia as the principal, who is among other things considered to be the planner of the November 2015 attacks in Paris, in which 130 were killed. Before the verdict was announced, the 31-year-old repented Thursday. He “deeply regrets his act,” said El Khazzani in his closing remarks to the court.

The passengers’ courage was prevented from getting worse

The court followed the prosecution’s request and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Had there not been a “combination of extremely unlikely circumstances” and “the extraordinary courage of the passengers,” El Khazzani would have committed a “particularly fatal” attack, Judge Franck Zientara found.

One of the “Thalys heroes”: Mark Moogalian (left), here with his wife and lawyer in Paris, overpowered the hit man with other passengers. (Source: Michel Euler / AP / dpa)

El Khazzani had stated during the trial that he wanted to kill “American soldiers” and “people from the European Commission” on the train. The 31-year-old gave his motive to the horror of civilian casualties in Western air strikes in Syria.

However, the court found this unbelievable. El Khazzani could not have distinguished the soldiers from the other passengers, the judge explained. Moreover, he had boarded the train with a “real arsenal” and thus probably targeted countless victims. El Khazzani watched the verdict announcement without moving.

Top terrorists who directed the Thalys bombers

The three co-defendants were found guilty of helping El Khazzani and Abaaoud enter the EU. They were sentenced to 27, 7 and 25 years in prison. El Khazzani arrived in the summer of 2015 via the refugee route from Syria to Europe. He was joined by jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was murdered by French elite police officers in 2015 as part of the investigation into the serious attacks in Paris.

Previous US soldiers who contributed significantly to the Moroccan’s arrest have also testified in the trial. They were celebrated as “heroes” in France. The American director Clint Eastwood filmed the case under the title “The 15:17 to Paris”, the Americans play themselves in it.

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