French court jails Moroccan for life over foiled 2015 train attack that inspired Clint Eastwood film

Ayoub El Khazzani was armed with an AK-47 automatic rifle and 300 rounds of ammunition

An undated photo released by a social network shows the 25-year-old Moroccan suspect in Friday's shooting, named as Ayoub El-Khazzani (R), who was overpowered by two US servicemen and other passengers before he could kill anyone during an attack aboard an Amsterdam-Paris Thalys train on August 21, 2015. He lived in (southern) Spain in Algeciras for a year, until 2014, then he decided to move to France. Once in France he went to Syria, then returned to France, according to a Spanish anti-terror source. AFP PHOTO / SOCIAL NETWORK

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A Moroccan man who launched a terrorist attack on train travelling between Amsterdam and Paris has been jailed for life in France.

Heroic passengers, including off-duty US soldiers, thwarted the attack by Ayoub El Khazzani on the high-speed Thalys train.

El Khazzani had been armed with an AK-47 automatic rifle and 300 rounds of ammunition.

The August 2015 attack was the inspiration for a 2018 film, The 15:17 to Paris, directed by Clint Eastwood.

As El Khazzani, 31, was jailed, three accomplices were sentenced to between seven and 27 years.

The court ruled he would have committed "an indiscriminate attack" that would have been "particularly deadly", had it not been for "a combination of particularly improbable circumstances" including faulty ammunition and "the exceptional courage of the passengers".

TOPSHOT - A courtroom sketch by Elisabeth de Pourquery made on November 16, 2020, shows defendant Ayoub El Khazzani sitting in the dock of the Paris Courthouse in Paris on November 16, 2020, during the trial of a foiled terror attack on an Amsterdam-Paris train in August 2015. Ayoub El Khazzani was tackled by passengers after emerging heavily armed from a toilet on a Thalys Amsterdam-Paris high-speed train on August 21, 2015. The 31-year-old, who joined the Islamic State group in Syria in May 2015, is charged with "attempted terrorist murder" and will be joined in the dock at the special anti-terror court by three other men accused of helping him. The passengers included two off-duty US servicemen, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, whose actions were later made into a film by Hollywood director Clint Eastwood. The trial is scheduled to last until December 17. / AFP / Elisabeth De Pourquery
A courtroom sketch shows defendant Ayoub El Khazzani sitting in the dock of the Paris Courthouse. AFP

El Khazzani showed no emotion as the verdict was read out.

The ruling came a day after a Paris court convicted 13 accomplices of the extremists who carried out attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January 2015.

Unlike El Khazzani, who was immediately apprehended, all of the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo assault were killed after the massacres, leaving only their accomplices to go on trial.

El Khazzani was tackled by passengers shortly after emerging bare-chested and heavily armed from a toilet on the train.

"I am sorry to the bottom of my heart," El Khazzani told the court. "What I did tears me apart, it freezes the blood."

He said that he had renounced the plot at the last minute because he could not kill people.

But the prosecution said it was only faulty munitions and the bravery of other passengers that stopped a massacre. There were about 150 travellers in the carriage.

US former serviceman Alek Skarlatos speaks to the press at the "Palais de Justice" courthouse in Paris, on November 20, 2020, on the second day of the trial of Ayoub El Khazzani, a Moroccan man whose attempted terror attack on an Amsterdam-Paris Thalys train in 2015 was foiled by passengers, including Sadler who tackled him along with his friends Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, then off-duty US soldiers. Ayoub El Khazzani and three alleged accomplices went on trial in Paris on November 16 for the attempted terror attack foiled by passengers. Gunman Ayoub El Khazzani was tackled by passengers shortly after emerging bare-chested and heavily armed from a toilet on a Thalys high-speed train on August 21, 2015. There were some 150 passengers in the carriage with Khazzani, who had an AK47 slung over his back, and a bag of nearly 300 rounds of ammunition. / AFP / Thomas SAMSON
US former serviceman Alek Skarlatos initially didn't tell French authorities he had tried to kill the assailant. AFP

The passengers who intervened included three Americans who were holidaying in Europe.

Two of them, Spencer Stone and Aleksander Skarlatos, were off-duty servicemen.

"I don't feel like a hero because we were just doing what we had to do to survive," Mr Skarlatos said after giving evidence during the trial.

El Khazzani had claimed he acted under the orders of Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to have been a mastermind behind the November 2015 attacks in Paris, to kill American soldiers on the train.

The court ruled that the Americans had no distinctive insignia and the size of his arsenal indicated he planned a wider massacre.

Abaaoud was killed by police in a Paris suburb five days after he shot indiscriminately at packed cafe terraces in Paris on the night of the November 13 attacks in the French capital.

French gendarmes walk in the corridor of the hall of justice, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 in Paris. Ayoub El Khazzani went on terror charges for appearing on a train with an arsenal of weapons and shooting one passenger in 2015. The proceedings end Thursday with the verdict. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Gendarmes walk in the corridor of the hall of justice where Ayoub El Khazzani was convicted of terror charges. AP

The verdicts in the Charlie Hebdo  and Thalys trials come as France is on its highest security alert, after three attacks in recent months blamed on radicals.

In October 16, a young Chechen refugee killed teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to his pupils.