The gunman who opened fire on an express train heading to Paris from Amsterdam has been identified as Ayoub el-Khazzani, a 26-year-old man originally from Morocco, a French official confirmed to the Associated Press Saturday. El-Khazzani began an attack on the train Friday evening before several passengers overpowered and restrained him. He is currently in Parisian authorities’ custody.
El-Khazzani had been on government officials’ radar before Friday’s attack. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that Spanish authorities flagged him to French officials in February 2014, saying he was affiliated with the “radical Islamist movement.” El-Khazzani was placed on a French security watch list shortly afterward.
A Spanish counterterrorism official told news agencies the suspect lived in Spain until 2014, when he moved to France. He then traveled to Syria before returning to France, the official said. But Cazeneuve told reporters El-Khazzani lived in Belgium in 2015, and did not say whether he had spent time in France.
The 550-passenger express train was traveling through Belgium Friday evening when the gunman, reportedly touting a Kalashnikov rifle, a box cutter and a pistol, began opening fire. Three American citizens, including two off-duty U.S. military servicemen, charged at the attacker and subdued him, while a British national helped restrain him. The train was subsequently rerouted to Arras, France.
French President Francois Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama both praised the actions of the men who took down the attacker, hailing them as heroes.
The motives behind the train attack remain unknown. France is still reeling from an attack in January on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which employees were gunned down by members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That incident ratcheted up security alerts and broadened anti-terrorist sweeps throughout several European countries.