August 25, 2015 / 3:55 PM / in 2 years

French prosecutor says train gunman had 'terrorist intent'

PARIS (Reuters) - The Paris prosecutor on Tuesday dismissed a claim by the gunman disarmed by passengers on a train between Amsterdam and Paris that he had been planning a robbery, and opened an investigation into “attempted murder with terrorist intent”.

French judicial police stand on the platform next to the Thalys high-speed train where shots were fired to collect clues in Arras, France, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Francois Molins dismissed as “far-fetched” Moroccan Ayoub el Khazzani’s assertion that he had wanted to rob passengers on the high-speed train where he was wrestled to the ground by passengers, including two off-duty U.S. servicemen.

“Ayoub el Khazzani had watched whilst already on the Thalys train YouTube files in which an individual called on the faithful to fight and take up arms in the name of the Prophet,” Molins told a news conference.

Two people were wounded in the struggle on Friday to subdue the attacker, who had an assault rifle, a hand gun and some 270 bullets.

Speaking after Khazzani was charged following four days of questioning, Molins said the gunman had bought a first class ticket worth 149 euros ($170), declining to take an earlier train despite it being cheaper.

“It seemed to be a premeditated and targeted project,” he said. “According to all the witness statements gathered, he had a resolute attitude and was determined to carry out his actions.”

Molins said Khazzani had claimed to have found a case containing a telephone, weapons and munitions in a public park where he was living the day before his departure.

“He said that when he got on the train he had no terrorism plan ... in his statements, which I deem far-fetched, he said he planned to rob the passengers of their money, smash a window and then jump out,” Molins said.

Despite Khazzani’s claim that he had slept on a bench in Brussels in the days prior to boarding the train on Aug. 21, Molins said he had actually stayed with his sister in the Belgian capital, which was searched on Monday.

Molins said Khazzani had been identified by the Spanish authorities to French intelligence services in February 2014 because of his connections to radical Islam, before he took a job with a telephone company in France.

The prosecutor said the 25-year-old had spent between five and seven months near Paris at the start of 2014 before spells in Brussels, Cologne and Vienna.

Molins said Khazzani went to Istanbul from Berlin on May 10 before returning from Antakya in southern Turkey to Albania on June 4, adding that he may have traveled to Syria.

Khazzani denied going to Turkey.

Reporting by John Irish and Leigh Thomas; Editing by James Regan and Robin Pomeroy

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