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Lawyer Claims Train Gunman Planned Robbery and Is 'Dumbfounded' by Terror Allegations

The attorney for the 26-year-old Moroccan man says he merely planned on robbing passengers aboard the train in a desperate attempt to get money for food.
August 23, 2015, 7:40pm
Imagen vía Binta/AP

The lawyer for the man accused of planning a terrorist attack Friday on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris said her client is "dumbfounded" by the allegations, and that he was only attempting to rob passengers.

The suspected gunman has been identified as 26-year-old Ayoub El-Khazzani, according to the Associated Press. El-Khazzani, a Moroccan citizen, is currently being held and interrogated by French police outside of Paris after reportedly bringing a Kalashnikov rifle, a box cutter, and an automatic Luger pistol onto the high-speed train. Three American passengers and a British businessman tackled El-Khazzani, choked him until he was unconscious, and then hogtied him.

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Security forces detaining a suspect later identified as Ayoub El-Khazzani at a train station in Arras, France, on August 21, 2015. (Photo by Christina Cathleen Coons/Twitter/EPA)

While the details of the incident have led many to believe El-Khazzani attempted a terror attack, his lawyer Sophie David told the media that her client had merely planned on robbing passengers aboard the train in a desperate attempt to get money for food.

"He is dumbfounded that his action is being characterized as terrorism," David, a lawyer in Arras, France, reportedly said on BFM-TV. She said he had described himself as "homeless," and added that she had "no doubt" about his claim.

David said her client reported that he found his weapons on a park bench in Brussels before he boarded the train.

'He is dumbfounded that his action is being characterized as terrorism.'

"He thought of a holdup to be able to feed himself, to have money," David said, explaining that El-Khazzani planned to "shoot out a window and jump out to escape."

After meeting El-Khazzani, David said he appeared thin and malnourished, with "a very wild look in his eyes."

The attorney said El-Khazzani often slept in the Brussels train station, and thought the train would have "wealthy" passengers he could rob.

"A few days later he decided to get on a train that some other homeless people told him would be full of wealthy people traveling from Amsterdam to Paris and he hoped to feed himself by armed robbery," David said, according to Reuters.

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US serviceman Spencer Stone, US student Anthony Sadler, and US serviceman Alek Skarlatos attend a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015. (Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA)

El-Khazzani had lived in Europe for several years, and was reportedly known to security agencies in Spain, France, and Belgium. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters Saturday that the Moroccan was put on a French security watch list in February 2014 after Spanish authorities alerted French intelligence that he "belonged to the radical Islamist movement."

Two of the Americans credited with subduing El-Khazzani were American service members. Spencer Stone, an Air Force member who was the first to engage the gunman, talked about the attack at a press conference on Sunday.

"He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end," Stone said. "So were we."

El-Khazzani reportedly used a knife and slashed Stone's neck and hand, leaving his thumb nearly severed. At least one passenger, aFrench-American who was shot, remains hospitalized in serious condition.

Follow Gillian Mohney on Twitter: @gillianmohney

The Associated Press contributed to this report