PARIS—If ever a singular incident was rife with potential for a future action movie scene, the thwarted terrorist attack aboard a high-speed Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015 fits the bill.
On Aug. 21, Ayoub El Khazzan, a 26-year-old Moroccan national living in Brussels who was known to French and Spanish intelligence services, boarded the Paris-bound train allegedly armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger pistol, some 270 rounds of ammunition, and a box cutter.
As the train sped toward the French border, El Khazzan emerged from a restroom with his rifle drawn. But before he was able to carry out what police believe was meant to be a jihadist bloodbath, several travelers jumped into action.
First, a French passenger identified in media reports only as “Damien” tried to wrest the rifle away from the gunman, as he was emerging from the restroom. Damien fell to the floor in the scuffle, prompting a second passenger, Franco-American professor Mark Magoolian, to confront El Khazzan. Magoolian succeeded in seizing the gunman’s rifle, before being shot in the neck after El Khazzan drew his handgun.
As Magoolian lay wounded on the floor of the train, three American friends—two off-duty soldiers and a college student—rushed the gunman, beating him with his own rifle and tying him up with T-shirts with the assistance of a British passenger.
Following the incident, the Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler were lauded as heroes in the U.S. and international press, even receiving France’s Legion d’Honneur medals, the country’s highest decoration, from then-president François Hollande.
The foiled attack embodied one of those larger-than-life, better-than-fiction moments that you could imagine the young heroes recounting to their kids and grandkids one day. France was still reeling from brutal terrorist attacks in Paris just seven months earlier when the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket were attacked. The Thalys incident seemed to offer a much-welcome happy ending. And that, some in France believe, should have been the conclusion of the story.