European intelligence services face questions over apparent failure to stop gunman on Paris bound train

Ayoub el-Khazzani
Ayoub el-Khazzani

European intelligence services are facing questions over their apparent failure to coordinate their action and stop the gunman who attempted a terrorist attack on a Paris bound train.

Authorities were investigating on Sunday whether the heavily-armed gunman thwarted in the midst of an apparent terror attack on a Amsterdam-Paris train was acting alone, or whether "a wider framework" was involved.

Belgium's chief prosecutor Eric Van Sypt told NBC News that the suspected attacker was 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El Khazzani, who had lived in Europe for several years and recently spent time in Brussels.

Van Sypt said it was not yet known if El Khazzani had an accomplice or was acting alone, and authorities in Belgium were probing "if there is possibly a wider framework involved

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Ayoub el-Khazzani was placed on the Schengen register, in which information about "persons of interest" is shared by 27 European countries, as early as 2012, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

There are discrepancies between French and Spanish accounts of his movements in the years leading up to the attempted attack, as leaked to the media by intelligence sources in the two countries. French and Spanish security services are reportedly engaged in a row over who may be to blame.

In France, Ayoub el-Khazzani was classified as a grade 3 threat, meaning he was considered to pose a serious risk. Those identified as a threat to national security are graded on a scale from 1, the highest risk, to 16, the lowest.

Police and intelligence services would have routinely been notified whenever the 25-year-old Moroccan passed through an international airport, or went through passport control. However, under the Schengen agreement, travellers are not required to show their passports when they cross borders between 26 European countries. France, Spain, Belgium and Spain -- countries he is known to travelled to in recent years -- are all in the Schengen area. Britain is not.

Officials did not disclose a possible motive for the Friday attack, but interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Spanish authorities had advised French intelligence about the suspect because he belongs to the “radical Islamist movement”.

Three people were injured but no one died during the incident, and authorities credited US, French and British passengers with stopping El-Khazzani, who they said was armed with the assault rifle, nine magazines, a pistol and a box cutter.