France will always remember 2015 as a deadly year with several terrorist attacks, including one that targeted the Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters and another at the Bataclan concert hall. But one attack was foiled that year on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train.
On August 21, a gunman with an AK-47 and a bag of nearly 300 rounds of ammunition boarded the high-speed train to allegedly commit a massacre on behalf of the Islamic State terror group. The trial of those charged in the incident is underway.
Jean-Charles Brisard, a counterterrorism expert who chairs the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, said the armed man, Ayoub El Khazzani, is directly linked to Adelhamid Abaaoud, mastermind of the November 2015 Paris attacks, since the men traveled to Europe from Syria together. Brisard said El Khazzani was a member of the Islamic State and trained in its camps, where he learned how to shoot to stage an attack in Europe.
Thanks to the bravery of a few passengers, including three young Americans backpacking through Europe that summer, the gunman was tackled and subdued. They are now back in France to testify at the trial against El Khazzani and his alleged accomplices.
'I do not feel like a hero'
Five years after saving many lives, Aleksander Skarlatos said he still does not consider himself as a hero. He instead credited his friend and co-passenger Spencer Stone, who helped subdue the assailant.
“I do not feel like a hero because we were just doing what we had to to survive," he said. "I think Spencer is probably a hero because he was the first one to get [to the attacker]. We only got involved because Spencer needed our help.”
Since 2015, Europe has been hit by many terrorist attacks. The most recent ones have occurred in Vienna and in France, where a teacher was beheaded near Paris and three people were killed in a church in Nice.
European police are on highest alert because of the terror threat.
Counterterrorism expert Brisard said that since the attempted attack on the train, terrorist strikes have evolved. He said analysis shows jihadists may operate alone but are all connected, in France or abroad, and are inspired by an ideology and jihadist propaganda.
The trial will resume Monday with the testimony of Stone. He was supposed to testify earlier but was hospitalized when he landed in Paris before the trial. No details about his condition were released.