Paris – Authorities across Europe are stringing together a profile of the man suspected of opening fire on a Paris-bound train.
They are investigating whether the Kalashnikov-toting attacker who was stopped by a group of passengers was driven by political motives.
French officials have been cautious about categorizing the incident a terrorist attack. But information from multiple countries indicates that the man, a 26-year-old Moroccan, may have traveled to Syria earlier this year.
French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneueve, said Saturday that the man was known for his links to radical Islamist movements.
According to accounts by police sources in Spanish media, the man lived in Spain from 2007 to 2014 – first in Madrid and then in the southern city of Algeciras.
He was arrested multiple times on suspicion of drug dealing and came to the attention of national security agents in 2012 when he started to show signs of radicalisation, the reports said.
In February 2014, he was flagged to French authorities by Spain for having links to radical Islam, which led France to open a file on him, Cazeneuve said.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”70560″]
In 2015, he moved to Belgium, where investigators have also opened a case.
German police sources said the gunman was suspected of traveling to join the Islamic State, and that he checked into a flight to Istanbul from Berlin-Tegel airport on May 10.
He is currently in the custody of the French anti-terrorism police unit.
One of his lawyers told Le Parisien in a report published Sunday that the man does not understand why there has been such interest in the incident, denying that he had terrorist motives and claiming to have intended to rob the passengers on the train.
He claimed to have found his weapons, which included a Kalashnikov, an automatic pistol and nine magazines, abandoned in a suitcase in a park, the lawyer said.
Currently homeless, he reportedly said he recently traveled to Spain, Belgium, Austria and Germany but denied traveling to Turkey or Syria.
The broad nature of the investigation, on which authorities in many European countries are working together, underscores the security challenges facing police trying to preempt such attacks.
France is already on high security alert after three Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in Paris in January and a man beheaded his employer in June.
He allegedly intended to distribute photos of the attack in Islamist propaganda circles.
Friday’s attack on the train was not deadly, however, and the courage of five passengers has been credited with avoiding what could have been a tragedy.
Two American military members, Air Force member, Spencer Stone, and National Guardsman, Alek Skarlatos, have been celebrated as heroes after a Frenchman warned of a man with a Kalashnikov standing in the train.
They tackled the gunman and with the help of their friend, Anthony Sadler, and a Briton named Chris Norman, held him until he was picked up by French police at the next train station.
The five are slated to meet with French President, Francois Hollande on Monday.
U.S. President, Barack Obama, also spoke with Hollande saying they ‘demonstrated remarkable bravery and acted without regard for their own safety in order to subdue a heavily armed individual who appeared intent on causing mass casualties.’ (dpa/NAN)