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French Thalys train attacker 'tried to kill me three times'

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media captionThe three Americans who helped subdue the gunman spoke about their experience after the attack

One of three Americans hailed as heroes for overcoming a gunman on a train travelling to Paris has told a French court his main aim was to survive.

Spencer Stone, a 28-year-old ex-serviceman, described via video from the US how he and his friends saw Ayoub El Khazzani pick up a Kalashnikov rifle and prepare to open fire.

He counted three separate attempts the gunman made to try to kill him.

Mr Stone was one of two people wounded in the August 2015 Thalys train attack.

The other was fellow passenger Mark Magoolian.

No-one died but Mr Stone rejected the defendant's claim that he could not kill anyone.

"I think we prevented a massacre," French reports quoted him as telling the court.

Who is on trial?

Ayoub El Khazzani, a 31-year-old Moroccan, is accused of attempted murder as part of a terrorist enterprise, three months before the deadly militant Islamist attacks in Paris.

Three others are accused of helping him plan the train attack.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAyoub El Khazzani had earlier fought with Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria

The main defendant has already admitted his role in the attack, near the town of Oignies in northern France. He told the trial last month he was under orders from Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud to kill Americans and members of the European Commission.

In the end, he said he was unable to carry out the plan. When Spencer Stone came at him he had told the court that "it was too much....I let him grab me".

What the US witness said

Spencer Stone was giving evidence via a video-link from California. Although he had originally flown to France to testify, he was admitted to hospital on arrival and had to return home.

He described how he had been dozing in his seat when he heard a commotion and a train employee rushed past. He turned around to see the gunman pick up the Kalashnikov and his friend tapped him on the shoulder and told him to go ahead.

"I ran towards Ayoub. He took aim at me," the ex-serviceman told the court, according to AFP. "I heard him pull the trigger several times as if he was trying to get the gun to fire. I was surprised I had time to get to him."

He described how he had tackled the attacker to the ground and put him in a chokehold.

image copyrightStone family
image captionSpencer Stone had travelled to France to testify but returned home after falling ill

But then, he said, the gunman grabbed a pistol and put it to his head. He heard metallic clicks.

"This was now the second time he tried to kill me," he said, but the magazine had apparently fallen from the gun.

At this point his friend, Alek Skarlatos, managed to seize the pistol, but the attacker produced a box-cutter from his pocket, slashed Mr Stone's thumb "almost in half" and wounded him in the neck.

Mr Skarlatos said earlier in the trial that he had seized the pistol and tried to fire at the attacker but the gun did not work.

media captionChristopher Norman, honoured for his role in preventing the attack, said he was "happy to be alive"

Asked if he agreed with the defendant's claim that once he had seen the Americans he decided he did not wish to kill anyone, Mr Stone was quoted as saying: "If he'd wanted to stop he wouldn't have tried to kill me three times."

Once the gunman was overpowered, the witness then described how he had helped Mark Magoolian, who was fast losing blood, by taking off his shirt and pressing his fingers on to an artery. Mr Magoolian, a French-American academic, was shot as he tried to wrestle the Kalashnikov away from the attacker.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionClint Eastwood directed a film based on the 2015 attack

"I didn't think he'd get out alive so I suggested he pray with me," the American said.

The events on board the train inspired a Clint Eastwood-directed film, The 15:17 to Paris.

The trial is due to hear from the defendant in the coming days and a verdict is expected on 17 December.

Related Topics

  • France

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