Belgium Rail Security Increased After Foiled Terror Attack
Photo via Twitter/ItalianPolitics
UPDATE: 10:19 am ET 8/23/15
A follow-up story by the Associated Press said the attacker has been identified as Ayoub El-Khazzani, 26, an individual from Spain known to authorities in his home country and also on the radar of law enforcement in France and Belgium. Officials said he has ties to radical Islam and has traveled to Syria.
However, the suspect has a different story.
The AP reported that one of El-Khazzani's lawyers told French television BFM that his intention was to just rob the train and he is "dumbfounded" that the incident is being treated as terrorism.
"When I told him about the media attention he didn't understand," Sophie David, a lawyer in Arras who represented El-Khazzani during his initial police questioning, told the AP. "He says he planned to hold up the train, then shoot out a window and jump out to escape."
The piece also mentions a fifth unidentified person from France who helped bring the suspect under control, in addition to the three Americans and one British citizen.
It could have been much, much worse. The Belgian government has increased security presence on trains and in stations after a gunman boarded a high-speed Thalys train in Brussels and opened fire, the Associated Press reported.
He was subdued by a group of passengers that included U.S. servicemen, and there were no fatalities.
The boost in security presence came after a meeting of Belgium’s national security council on Saturday, which was followed by an announcement from Prime Minister Charles Michel's office.
Via the AP, they decided to put mixed Franco-Belgian security patrols on Thalys trains, which connect major cities in the Netherlands and Belgium to Paris. Patrols and security checks will be increased at international rail stations, and rail travelers will see more baggage checks occur.
Belgian law enforcement has also been urged to be on alert at major events and public gatherings.
French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade was on the train, and the AP quoted his comments to Paris-Match magazine. Anglade said his finger was wounded "to the bone" when be broke emergency alarm glass. He said passengers thought they were going to die "because we were prisoners of this train."
One car away from the incident with his companion and two children, Anglade told Paris-Match, "We heard passengers shouting in English, 'He's firing, he's firing. He has a Kalashnikov.'" He said train personnel ran down the corridor to hide in a work car, and claimed they locked the door and would not answer desperate knocks.
Then one of the three Americans who took control of the situation came into their car and said the gunman had been subdued.
"We were in a bad spot but with good people," Anglade said to Paris-Match. "We were incredibly lucky to have American soldiers with us. I pay homage to their heroic courage and thank them. Without them, we all would be dead."
Another AP report revealed the details of the attempted terror attack.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the AP the incident started when a French passenger ran into the heavily armed individual when attempting to enter a bathroom, and the suspect opened fire.
This got the attention of Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, who was traveling with two childhood friends — Spencer Stone, an Air Force serviceman from Carmichael, California, and Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon.
Sadler told the AP they heard a gunshot and breaking glass, then saw a train employee sprint down the aisle with a gunman wielding an automatic rifle in hot pursuit.
"As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, 'Spencer, go!' And Spencer runs down the aisle," Sadler said. "Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious."
British traveler Chris Norman told French television that he helped tie the gunman up. With the attacker immobilized, Stone helped a passenger wounded in the throat, stopping the bleeding until paramedics came, Sadler said.
Throughout the ordeal, Sadler told the AP, "The gunman never said a word."
The train eventually came to a stop in Arras in northern France where authorities boarded.
Three people were injured, according to the AP. Stone remains hospitalized due to his non life-threatening stab wounds, a dual French-American citizen was wounded by stray gunfire and Anglade suffered hand injuries from broken glass.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the shooting, and said in a statement, "While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy."
The AP said Cazeneuve told reporters in Paris on Saturday that the suspect may be a 26-year-old Moroccan flagged by Spanish authorities last year for links to radical Islam, but the identity has not been confirmed. Cazeneuve called for caution before jumping to conclusions, according to the AP.
In a year with multiple deadly terror attacks, “French authorities are on heightened alert” the AP said, but does note that while Europe’s major rail stations are patrolled by rifle-toting soldiers, travelers can board most high-speed trains without metal detector scans, bag searches or passport checks.
More by Michael Isenbek
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