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France train suspect watched jihadi video, prosecutor says

PARIS — Minutes before he slung an assault rifle across his chest and walked through a high-speed train, the Moroccan suspect in the foiled attack watched a jihadi video on his cellphone, the French prosecutor said in formally opening a terrorism investigation Tuesday.

The actions by Ayoub El-Khazzani on the Amsterdam-to-Paris train Friday night and information from other European authorities on his travels and apparent links to radical Islam prompted the investigation, said prosecutor Francois Molins.

El-Khazzani, 26, was tackled and tied up by five passengers, including three Americans and a Briton, averting what President Francois Hollande said "could have degenerated into monstrous carnage."

In his speech Tuesday, Hollande said the country remains "exposed" to violent extremism, and "this aggression is new proof that we should prepare ourselves for other assaults."

Molins said that during questioning by authorities, El-Khazzani said he had no terrorism plans and had found a bag of weapons Thursday in a Brussels park and planned to use them to rob passengers. But the suspect grew less and less lucid as he gave his explanation, the prosecutor added, and eventually stopped talking to investigators altogether.

El-Khazzani boarded the train in Brussels. Besides the assault rifle, El-Khazzani had 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, a box-cutter and a bottle of gasoline, Molins said.

"El-Khazzani watched a video of Islamic preaching onboard" on YouTube on his mobile phone shortly before he got up to start walking through the train with the weapons, Molins told reporters at a news conference. The suspect's phone was found in a bag left on the train.

The suspect had traveled through several European countries and had been repeatedly incarcerated in Spain and flagged for surveillance in France, Molins said. After five to seven months in 2014 in France, he lived in Brussels; Cologne, Germany; and Vienna. He visited Turkey this year and may also have tried to go to Syria, Molins said.