France train shooting suspect identified as Moroccan national, Ayoub El-Khazzani

World Today

France Train AttackA Thalys train of French national railway operator, SNCF, stands at the main train station in Arras, northern France, after a gunman opened fire injuring three people, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A spokesman for France’s interior ministry says three people were wounded in a shooting on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday. Speaking on French television BFM, Pierre-Henri Brandet says a suspect is in custody and the train has been evacuated in Arras, 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Paris, where the train stopped after the attack. (AP Photo)

A gunman named as Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire with an automatic weapon on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday, wounding three people, two of them critically, officials said. The man Spanish authorities had under surveillance left Spain for France in 2014, travelled to Syria, and then back to France, a Spanish counter-terrorism source said on Saturday.

The suspect was arrested after the train stopped in Arras, 115 miles (185 kilometers north of Paris, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said on French television BFM. Passengers were evacuated and police have secured the area.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says two American passengers subdued the gunman who opened fire on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris. He said one of the Americans was hospitalized with serious wounds.

Cazeneuve said the American passengers “were particularly courageous and showed great bravery in very difficult circumstances” and that “without their sangfroid we could have been confronted with a terrible drama.”

A second person was also seriously wounded in the attack, while a third is being treated for minor injuries.

U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande spoke by phone on Saturday to discuss the attack on a train in France that was thwarted by passengers, including three Americans, the White House said.

Obama, who is vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and Hollande agreed that the three Americans, along with a French and a British passenger, had “demonstrated remarkable bravery” to subdue the heavily armed gunman on Friday, the White House said in a statement.

The suspect is a 26-year-old Moroccan, said Sliman Hamzi, an official with police union Alliance, said on French television i-Tele.

In Spain, he lived in the southern port of Algeciras and appeared to have stayed in the country for about a year, the source said.

The suspect was armed with an automatic rifle and a knife, said Christophe Piednoel, spokesman for national railway operator SNCF.

Investigators from France’s special anti-terror police are leading the investigation, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office said.

The attack took place while the train was passing through Belgium, according to a statement from the office President Francois Hollande. Hollande said he’s spoken with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and the two leaders pledged to cooperate closely on the investigation.

France has been on high security alert since Islamist militants killed 17 people in and around Paris in January.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was en route to Arras in response to the train shooting, Brandet said.

Information complied from Reuters, The Associated Press and AFP.