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France train gunman being treated as suspected ‘terrorist’

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Paris: French prosecutors said today that the Moroccan man arrested for last week’s train attack is being treated as a suspected “terrorist” who planned to kill a large number of passengers.

Ayoub El Khazzani, 25, boarded the train in Brussels on Friday armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition, as well a Luger pistol, a bottle of petrol and a box-cutter, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.

He walked out of a toilet cubicle topless and armed before being wrestled to the floor and subdued by two young American off-duty servicemen, their friend and a 62-year-old British consultant.

A Franco-American man was shot and injured in the struggle.

Khazzani’s claims to investigators that he was only planning to rob passengers were “barely credible”, said Molins, adding that he had grown increasingly evasive in his responses to police and stopped responding entirely yesterday.

Molins outlined a raft of evidence indicating why Khazzani was being probed for “attempted murder” as part of a terrorist plot.

This included the fact that Khazzani flew back in June from a town in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, and that he watched a jihadist video on his mobile phone just prior to launching the attack.

Molins also raised suspicions about how Khazzani was able to afford a 149-euro (USD 171) first class train ticket, given his claims to sleeping rough in Brussels.

Ticket sellers at the station have told investigators that Khazzani paid in cash and turned down an earlier journey, which Molins said was an indication the target had been carefully chosen in advance.

Khazzani also claims he found the stash of weapons and mobile phone in a park where he was sleeping rough the night before.

French authorities have until today evening to charge or release Khazzani, who was on the radar of several European intelligence agencies.

But several gaps remain in his back story.

A Spanish counter-terrorism source said he lived in Spain for seven years until 2014, where he came to the attention of authorities for making hardline comments defending jihad, attending a radical mosque in the port of Algeciras and being involved in drug trafficking.

Molins said he had also spent time in France in 2014 working for mobile phone operator Lycamobile, a claim confirmed by the head of the firm who said Khazzani stayed for two months and left because he did not have the right work papers.