French train gunman was 'minor hash dealer'

2015-08-24 21:52
An undated photo released by a social network shows the 25-year-old Moroccan suspect Ayoub El-Khazzani. (AFP)

An undated photo released by a social network shows the 25-year-old Moroccan suspect Ayoub El-Khazzani. (AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Madrid - Ayoub El Khazzani, a Moroccan man accused of a foiled attack on a crowded Amsterdam-Paris train, was a small-time hashish dealer who liked to play football, two young men from his former Madrid neighbourhood said on Monday.

"He sold hashish sometimes, like many do, to buy something to eat, pay the rent, but he was not a trafficker," said Mohamed, as he drank mint tea at the Gibraltar bar in Lavapies, a multi-ethnic neighbourhood where El Khazzani once lived.

"He was a good guy, normal, who played football with us right here. It's strange that he could have done this," added the 34-year-old Moroccan builder.

El Khazzani, 25, is being questioned by French anti-terror investigators after he opened fire on a high-speed train on Friday evening before being overpowered by passengers.

The alleged attacker maintains he was only trying to rob passengers because he was hungry.

"He rarely went to mosque," said Hicham, another 34-year-old Moroccan builder, as he stood at the counter of the bar, before adding that El Khazzani "sometimes" sold hashish.

El Khazzani, who was born in Tetouan in northern Morocco, was living at the time with his father, a scrap dealer, in a three-storey building with a pink facade on Cabastreros street that is now occupied by Spanish and Senegalese tenants.

A Spanish court issued an arrest warrant for him in July 2014 to serve a six-month jail sentence issued by a court two years earlier for having sold seven grams of hashish to a 17-year-old when he was just 19 years old.

When Spain entered into recession in 2008 jobs became scarce in the neighbourhood.

"Of 50 young Moroccans, I know just ten that have a permanent job," said Allal Taouriarat, 58, who sells used items in Madrid's weekly Rastro flea market.

"Many ended up leaving for France or Belgium," he added.

'I did not think he was radical'

El Khazzani lived in Spain between 2007 and 2014, leaving Madrid for the southern port of Algeciras which is just a 90-minute ferry ride from northern Morocco, before going to France.

Algeciras has a huge population of Moroccans, many who have moved there from other parts of Spain and across Europe "because of its proximity to their country and their families", said Jose Angel Ponce Lara, a sociologist who works to help integrate immigrants in Spain.

Mohamed said he last saw El Khazzani in Madrid a couple of years ago.

"He had come from Algecerias for a trial in Madrid, he had a small beard, but I did not think he was radical," Mohamed said.

The Lavapies neighbourhood where El Khazzani lived is slowly becoming gentrified, with trendy cafes located beside shabby travel agencies advertising cheap trips to Bangladesh.

But it remains linked in Spaniards' minds to the 2004 Madrid train bombings in which 191 people were killed and more than 1 800 injured when bombs hidden in duffle bags ripped through four crowded commuter trains.

One of the 21 people who were found guilty in 2007 of involvement in the attack, Jamal Zougam, ran the shop in the neighbourhood where most of the mobile phones used to set off the bombs came from.

"Before it was a troubled neighbourhood, neglected by the authorities, but recently, since the zone draws tourists, we are very much controlled by the police," said Taouriarat.

There are five "small mosques" in the neighbourhood set discretely in the basements of buildings, he added.

"I have gone into all of them and I have never heard a speech inciting terrorism," said Taouriart.

"What we need to stop are those who brainwash our youths in the name of God. To then use them as free soldiers," added Said, a 39-year-old barber, at the terrace of the Gibraltar bar.

NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.