Ayoub El Khazzani

Ayoub El-Khazzani is a Moroccan national and ISIS operative who attempted to open fire on a train traveling from Brussels to Paris on August 21, 2015. He is currently serving life in prison for the attempted attack.Constant Meheut, “Gunman Sentenced to Life in Prison for 2015 Attack on Paris-Bound Train,” New York Times, December 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/world/europe/france-train-attack-trial.html.

Khazzani allegedly relocated from Morocco to Spain in 2007, where he was later granted residency. He was detained a number of times for drug trafficking, and was first brought to the attention of anti-terrorist authorities for attending Taqwa, a radical mosque in Algeciras, southern Spain. Although authorities claim Taqwa was a pivotal factor in Khazzani’s radicalization, mosque officials denied that the mosque ever extolled radicalism, as even women were allowed to join prayers. Some scholars suggest Khazzani’s continued unemployment could have contributed to his radicalization. Along with occasional part-time work, Khazzani reportedly sold hashish in Algeciras, but eventually obtained a work contract handing out pamphlets on the outskirts of Paris in early 2014. His position was terminated after two months as he did not have the working papers to stay in France.Raphael Minder, “Scrutiny Falls on a Spanish Mosque After Foiled Train Attack,” New York Times, August 27, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/europe/renewed-scrutiny-for-mosque-in-spain-after-foiled-train-attack.html.

In February 2014, he was flagged by Spanish authorities as an Islamist extremist who was traveling to France and was subsequently placed on an intelligence watch list in France. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, Khazzani was identified as a terrorist threat by French authorities as he had reportedly been in contact with Cherif and Saïd Kouachi prior to the massacre.“France train shooting suspect profile: Ayoub El-Khazzani,” BBC News, August 25, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34032218; “Thalys train attack: Belgium charges two over foiled 2015 shooting,” BBC News, October 31, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41825021; Sophie Jane Evans, Wills Robinson, Keiligh Baker, Darren Boyle and Nick Fagge, “Moroccan terrorist, 26, who was taken down by hero US airman and his friends after opening fire on French train - as it emerges he 'fought with ISIS in Syria and was known to FOUR intelligence agencies',” Daily Mail, August 13, 2015, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3207394/Pictured-Moroccan-terrorist-26-taken-hero-airman-friends-opening-fire-French-train-emerges-fought-ISIS-Syria-known-FOUR-intelligence-agencies.html. The 2015 attack, in which the Kouachi brothers forcibly entered the Charlie Hebdo office armed with assault rifles, submachine guns, pistols, and a rocket launcher, ultimately killed 17 people. The attack, which was carried out on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was following the publication of a cartoon featuring the Prophet Muhammad.Harriet Alexander, “How did the Paris terrorists get hold of their weapons?” Daily Telegraph (London), January 17, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11351855/How-did-the-Paris-terrorists-get-hold-of-their-weapons.html; Mohammed Ghobari, “Exclusive: Paris attack suspect met prominent al Qaeda preacher in Yemen – intelligence source,” Reuters, January 9, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-yemen-idUSKBN0KI0PW20150109.

At some point in 2014, Khazzani moved to Aubervilliers, France, for a period up to seven months before moving to Cologne, Germany, as well as Vienna, Austria, and Brussels, Belgium. In May 2015, Khazzani reportedly traveled to Turkey to undergo military training, and then Syria where he allegedly fought for ISIS.“France train shooting suspect profile: Ayoub El-Khazzani,” BBC News, August 25, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34032218; “Thalys train attack: Belgium charges two over foiled 2015 shooting,” BBC News, October 31, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41825021; Sophie Jane Evans, Wills Robinson, Keiligh Baker, Darren Boyle and Nick Fagge, “Moroccan terrorist, 26, who was taken down by hero US airman and his friends after opening fire on French train - as it emerges he 'fought with ISIS in Syria and was known to FOUR intelligence agencies',” Daily Mail, August 13, 2015, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3207394/Pictured-Moroccan-terrorist-26-taken-hero-airman-friends-opening-fire-French-train-emerges-fought-ISIS-Syria-known-FOUR-intelligence-agencies.html.

On August 21, 2015, Khazzani, boarded a Thalys train in Brussels heading to France armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, pistol, ammunition, and a box cutter. Three American tourists, including two U.S. servicemen, and one Briton, observed Khazzani preparing to attack and intervened, preventing Khazzani further carrying out the attack. Two people were injured—one was shot, while another was wounded apprehending Khazzani. According to witnesses, Khazzani appeared to be incompetent in handling his weapons.Adam Nossiter, “A Shot, a Glimpse of an AK-47, and U.S. Servicemen Pounced on Gunman on Train to France,” New York Times, August 22, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/world/europe/americans-recount-gunmans-attack-on-train-to-france.html; Raziye Akkoc, “French hero's wife: 'He looked at me and said, ‘I’m hit.‘ He thought he was going to die' – live,” Telegraph, August 24, 2015, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11819824/France-train-attack-Mark-Moogalian-named-as-French-hero-who-foiled-attack-by-Moroccan-terrorist-Ayoub-El-Khazzani-live.html. Furthermore, French prosecutors claimed Khazzani had allegedly watched an online recording that incited violence minutes before carrying out the attack.“France train shooting suspect profile: Ayoub El-Khazzani,” BBC News, August 25, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34032218. The video, which Khazzani accessed through YouTube, contained a message that encouraged violence “in the name of the prophet.”Matthew Dalton, Inti Landauro, and Sam Schechner, “Train Gunman Watched Jihadist Video Before Attack, French Prosecutor Says,” Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/train-gunman-watched-jihadist-video-before-attack-french-prosecutor-says-1440519918.

Khazzani claimed he carried out the attack under orders from Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgium-based ISIS operative who allegedly planned the train attack as well as the November 2015 gun and suicide bombing attacks in Paris.Josh Halliday and Jonathan Bucks, “Suspected Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud: what we know,” Guardian (London), November 16, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/16/abdelhamid-abaaoud-suspected-mastermind-of-paris-terror-attacks; David Chazan, “True Mastermind of Paris Terror Attacks ‘Still at Large,’” Telegraph (London), July 13, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/13/true-paris-attacks-mastermind-still-at-large/. Abaaoud was killed on November 18, 2015, during a major police raid in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.Aurelien Breeden and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “Chief Suspect in Paris Attacks Died in Raid, France Says,” New York Times, November 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/20/world/europe/paris-attacks.html. According to investigators, Khazzani traveled with Abaaoud from Syria to Belgium and was instructed by Abaaoud to carry out an attack that would target Americans and members of the European Commission.Elaine Ganley and Nicolas Vaux-Montagny, “Trial in France for extremist foiled by 3 Americans on train,” Associated Press, November 16, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/france-ayoub-el-khazzani-trial-24fe4447218cb70bb0d2a51a68c7f17e; “Ayoub El-Khazzani: Gunman jailed for life over 2015 France train attack,” BBC News, December 17, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55351608.

Khazzani’s trial began on November 16, 2020 and on December 17, 2020, a Paris court sentenced Khazzani to life in prison for attempted murder in connection with terrorism, possession of weapons in connection with terrorism and participation in a terrorist group.Kim Willsher, “Terrorist behind foiled 2015 French train attack receives life sentence,” Guardian, December 17, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/17/terrorist-ayoub-el-khazzani-2015-thalys-train-attack-life-sentence. Along with Khazzani, three others—Bilal Chatra, Redouane El Amrani Ezzerrifi, and Mohamed Bakkali—were convicted of helping Khazzani travel from Syria to Belgium, and for having assisted in the preparations for the assault. They were sentenced to prison terms that ranged from seven to 27 years.Constant Meheut, “Gunman Sentenced to Life in Prison for 2015 Attack on Paris-Bound Train,” New York Times, December 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/world/europe/france-train-attack-trial.html.

Return to Full Database

Take action:

Help Counter Extremism

Stay updated on the latest

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

View Archive

CEP on Twitter