United Kingdom

US hero who helped overpower French train terrorist says gunman tried to kill him in three ways

A heroic American man who helped overpower a French train terrorist spoke of how the gunman tried to kill him three different ways but failed with his assault rifle, pistol and knife in court today. 

Ex-US Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone, 28, explained the events that took place when he saw ISIS terrorist Ayoub El Khazzani, 31, reaching for a Kalashnikov rifle on a Amsterdam-Paris high-speed Thalys train on August 21, 2015. 

Appearing by video from California for the trial in France, he said Khazzani attempted to kill him three times and French media report he told the court he and his friends 'prevented a massacre.'

He was one of three former military officers, including Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, who helped tackle the terrorist as he threatened to shoot them while they were holidaying in Europe.  

The former serviceman, who had flown to France to appear in court but was forced to return home after being admitted to hospital, explained he was falling asleep during the journey but woke abruptly as a member of train staff dashed past him in the carriage. 

Brave US serviceman Spencer Stone (centre) gave his account of events which took place on a train bound for Paris in 2015. Pictured: Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler (left to right) in a 2015 photo after receiving medals for their roles in disarming the gunman

The court heard from Stone that the ISIS gunman Ayoub El Khazzani, 31, (pictured in a courtroom sketch) aimed the gun at his heads of American soldiers

Speaking at his trial for the first time last week, Khazzani said he shot passenger Mark Moogalian (pictured right, at the courthouse with his wife) in the back but claims he was aiming for the English professor's hand

A few seconds later he spotted Khazzani with the gun and, the BBC reports, his friend 'told him to go ahead'. 

The US hero rushed towards the gunman as he pointed the weapon at him but failed to shoot.

Stone brought Khazzani down and placed him in a choke hold but the terrorist was able to brandish a pistol and hold it to the brave man's head.

Thankfully the magazine fell out and Stone's friend Alek Skarlatos nabbed the gun from him. 

But, according to Stone's testimony, the attacker was not finished there, pulling out a box-cutter and swiping it across his thumb and his neck. 

After they had managed to prevent Khazzani from attacking anyone else, Stone attended to English professor Mark Magoolian who had been shot in the back while they had wrestled to get the gun off him. 

The ISIS terrorist admitted during the trial last week that he had pointed his gun at the heads of the American soldiers but could not shoot them. 

He claimed he was 'trembling' when he took out his AK-47 automatic rifle and pistol in the toilets. 

Spencer Stone (centre) was on holiday with his friends Alek Skarlatos (left) and Anthony Sadler (right) and travelling on the train as Khazzani pulled out a gun

Alek Skarlatos (centre), Anthony Sadler (right) - who helped foil the attempted terror attack on the Amsterdam to Paris train with US airman Spencer Stone - stand with their lawyer (left) to talk to the press during the Thalys attack trial at the Paris courthouse late last month

While he admits he shot passenger Mark Moogalian, he claims he was aiming for his hand and said as he pointed the gun at Mr Stone's head he 'could not do it' - instead letting Mr Stone 'grab' him.

The prosecution argues that Khazzani failed to carry out a massacre on the train because of defective munitions and passengers who intervened to subdue him.

Khazzani was concealing the AK-47 automatic rifle and 300 rounds of ammunition when he boarded the train - after having coffee at the station in Brussels. 

Khazzani said he was under orders from Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

Abaaoud had travelled with him to Europe from war-torn Syria to guide the cell behind the deadly attacks in November 2015 in Paris and in March 2016 in the Belgian capital Brussels.

Khazzani told the court: 'I took my seat. I started looking for the people he had spoken to me about, American soldiers, people from the European Commission. Honestly it was to kill them.'

He said he eventually located his American targets.

Shauna Asley Verstichelen, who was a train stewardess at the time of the attack, embraced Skarlatos after the hearing last month

The presiding judge asked him: 'How did you recognise them?'

'Abaaoud had told me they were young and burly, that they spoke English,' Khazzani replied.

'I decided to attack the American soldiers,' the defendant said through an interpreter.

He said he went to the toilet to prepare the attack but that he was in a bad state.

Nevertheless, he took his pistol and Kalashnikov rifle out of his bag and armed himself, he said.

Anthony Sadler (left), Spencer Stone (second left), Alek Skarlatos (right) and US ambassador to France Jane Hartley (second right) pose after a press conference at the US embassy in Paris two days after the foiled attack in 2015

'I was trembling,' he recalled.

When he emerged from the toilet, he ran into passenger Mark Moogalian and ended up shooting him in the back with his pistol when the English professor grabbed his Kalashnikov.

In the courtroom's first row, Moogalian, seriously wounded in the attack, listened with his head lowered and his hand holding his wife's.

Khazzani said he then saw Spencer Stone, a US Air Force serviceman who was on vacation with friends.

'I aimed at his head... I could not do it. I cannot explain to you. It was too much....I let him grab me,' he said. 

Testifying last week, Aleksander Skarlatos, a former national guardsman and Stone's friend, told the court he understood immediately what was happening when he heard a gun shot and knew they could have died that day.

Pictured: Relatives of the man accused of the foiled terror attack arrive in court on November 16

The pair decided to go after the gunman. Stone eventually caught him and rolled on the ground with Khazzani, at one point warning that the attacker had a pistol, which Skarlatos said he grabbed.

Khazzani, who joined the Islamic State group in Syria in May 2015, is charged with 'attempted terrorist murder'.

In the dock with him are three men facing charges for aiding and abetting the crime: Bilal Chatra, Redouane Sebbar and Mohamed Bakkali.

Belgian Abaaoud, who Khazzani named as the operation chief, is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind several attacks in Europe.

French police killed Abaaoud after he shot indiscriminately at packed cafe terraces in Paris on the night of the November 2013 coordinated attacks, for which Bakkali is also accused of having acted as logistics coordinator.

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