French investigators quiz 'dumbfounded' gunman

PARIS, FRANCE, Marianne Barriaux and Pauline Froissart- French anti-terror investigators on Sunday questioned a Moroccan man accused of a foiled attack on a crowded train, but he insists he was only trying to rob passengers, a lawyer said.
The heavily-armed alleged attacker, 25-year-old Ayoub El Khazzani, is said to be "dumbfounded" by accusations he was intending to carry out a terror attack despite being known to intelligence services in several countries for extremist links.

On Friday, he boarded a high-speed train in Brussels bound for Paris armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, Luger automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.
Witnesses say he opened fire, injuring a man before being wrestled to the floor and subdued by three American passengers and a Briton.
One of the Americans, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, told a press conference Sunday that if Khazzani had known how to handle guns he could have killed many people.
"He clearly had no firearms training whatsoever," he said.
"If he knew what he was doing or even got lucky and did the right thing, he would have been able to operate through all eight of the (ammunition) magazines and we probably wouldn't be here today along with a lot of other people."
The Americans revealed that they had only moved into the carriage where the attack took place because they were in search of a better Wi-Fi signal.
French President Francois Hollande will personally thank the group for their bravery on Monday, when he is to award them the country's top Legion d'Honneur medal.
Intelligence services in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain had previously flagged Khazzani as an Islamic extremist.
But he has denied any intention of waging a jihadist attack, telling investigators he had merely stumbled upon a weapons stash in park in Belgium and decided to use it to rob passengers, according to Sophie David, a lawyer assigned to his case when he was taken off the train in Arras, northern France.
- Suspect denies shots fired -
"He is dumbfounded that his act is being linked to terrorism," David told BFM-TV, adding that the suspect who is believed to have lived in Belgium describes himself as homeless.
"He says that by chance he found a suitcase with a weapon, with a telephone, hidden away," said David.
"He said he found it in the park which is just next to the Midi Station in Brussels, where he often sleeps with other homeless people.
"He says that the Kalashnikov didn't work and he was brought under control immediately without a single shot being fired."
The lawyer is no longer representing Khazzani as he has been transferred to a police station near Paris for questioning.
Under French law, suspects in terrorism-related investigations can be questioned for up to 96 hours, meaning Khazzani could be held until Tuesday evening.
Brandishing the weapons, the attacker emerged from a toilet cubicle on the high-speed train just after it crossed from Belgium into northern France.
A French passenger who first encountered him tried to disarm Khazzani but he got away and fired at least one shot, wounding a French-American traveller in his 50s.
But the attack was stopped when two off-duty US servicemen and their friend Anthony Sadler, a student, charged the gunman and restrained him.
In a press conference at the US ambassador's residence in Paris, 23-year-old Sadler dismissed suggestions that Khazzani was not trying to kill anyone.
"It doesn't take eight magazines (of bullets) to rob a train," Sadler said.
Skarlatos, 22, who recently returned from serving in Afghanistan, said the gunman had seemed highly determined.
"He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end. So were we."
- Suspect had itinerant lifestyle -
The Americans told the press conference they had reservations in the first-class carriage where the attack took place, but they could not initially find their seats.
They only moved to the carriage half an hour into the journey because the wireless Internet was poor and they were seeking a better connection.
Spencer Stone, who serves in the US Air Force, reached the gunman first and was slashed in the neck and on the eye and almost had his thumb sliced off with a box-cutter.
Stone said he first saw the suspect after waking from a deep sleep.
"I turned around and I saw he had what looked to be an AK-47 and it looked jammed or it wasn't working and he was trying to charge the weapon and Alek hit me and said 'let's go'."
They pinned the man to the ground and hit him on the head until he was unconscious. British passenger Chris Norman then helped them tie up the gunman.
"The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. I want that lesson to be learned. In times of terror like that to please do something. Don't just stand by and watch," said Sadler.
A Spanish counter-terrorism source said Khazzani had lived in Spain for seven years until 2014. He came to the attention of Spanish authorities for making hardline speeches defending jihad.
Spanish intelligence services say he went to France, from where he travelled to Syria, but the suspect has reportedly denied going to the conflict-ridden country where the Islamic State group controls swathes of territory.

Monday, August 24th 2015
Marianne Barriaux and Pauline Froissart

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