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22 Aug, 2015 14:04

French high-speed train attacker ‘connected with radical Islamists, visited Syria’ - minister

French high-speed train attacker ‘connected with radical Islamists, visited Syria’ - minister

A gunman, who injured two people on a high-speed train in France on Friday, was likely listed in the EU as a suspected Islamist militant, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, adding that doubts about the man’s identity still remain.

"It is important to be careful about his identity, which is not yet established with certainty," Cazeneuve is cited as saying by Reuters.

"If the identity he has declared is confirmed, he is a 26-year-old man of Moroccan nationality identified by the Spanish authorities to French intelligence services in February 2014 because of his connections to the radical Islamist movement."

According to the minister, France will be working with other EU countries in order to “establish precisely the activities and travels of this terrorist.”

A source within the investigation told Reuters that the perpetrator initially provided a different identity, which wasn’t known to the security officials. 

While a French police source said that the attacker has been identified as Ayoub El Kazhani, a 26-year-old Moroccan man, BFM-TV channel reported.

According to Cazeneuve, the attacker told the investigation that he lived in Spain in 2014 and moved to Belgium this year.

French security sources told Le Voix du Nord newspaper that the perpetrator is suspected of having visited Syria after being spotted on a plane from Germany to Turkey this May.

The paper also said that he was connected to a terrorist group behind an Islamist shooting in Belgium in January.

A Spanish counter-terrorism source also told Reuters that the man had visited Syria, where Islamic State and other radical terror groups control a large part of the territory.

While residing in the Spanish port of Algeciras in 2014, “he went to France, then to Syria, and he returned to France," the source said.

According Spanish daily El Pais, the train attacker was arrested on three occasions during his stay in Spain for drug trafficking and other offenses.

He resided in country between 2007 and 2014, living in the capital, Madrid, before moving to Andalusia in the southern part of the country, the paper reported.

The attacker boarded the Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris with an arsenal on him, which included a Kalashnikov assault rifle, an automatic pistol with ammo and a box cutter knife, Cazeneuve said.

However, he was unable to put his weapons to use due to being overpowered by the passengers, with two people being wounded in the struggle.

The brawl began when a Frenchman, on his way to the toilet, tried to prevent the attacker from entering the carriage.

He was then helped by two US soldiers travelling on the train, one of whom – only identified as Spencer - was stabbed by the attacker, the minister said.

Another man of Franco-American nationality was wounded - hit by a bullet while in is his seat.

Reports on Friday suggested that he was a 60-year-old actor, Jean-Hugues Anglade, famous for taking part in such movies as Killing Zoe, Betty Blue and Nikita.

The incident happened near the town of Arras in northern France, but the perpetrator has already been transferred to Paris.

He can be held for four days without any charges being brought against him, Cazeneuve said.

In the coming day, French President Francois Hollande, will receive the passengers, who subdued the gunman, to personally thank them for their courage.

The French police and security services have been on high alert since January when 17 people were gunned down in several Islamist attacks in Paris, including the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.