MADRID (Reuters) - The father of a suspected Islamist militant gunman overpowered by passengers on a high-speed train in France was quoted on Monday as saying he could not believe his son was a terrorist.
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo spoke to Mohammed el Khazzani, father of Ayoub el Khazzani who was arrested after attacking passengers on the train on Friday, at his home in Algeciras, southern Spain.
“I wasn’t on the train, but I don’t think he was capable of doing something like that,” Khazzani told El Mundo, speaking to the Spanish newspaper in Arabic.
“They are saying Ayoub is a terrorist but I simply can’t believe it,” said Khazzani, 64, a scrap merchant who lives in the poor El Saladillo district of Algeciras with his wife and some of his six children.
“Why would he want to kill anyone? It makes no sense,” he said of his son, who lived with him in Algeciras until he left for France in 2014.
“The only terrorism he is guilty of is terrorism for bread, he doesn’t have enough money to feed himself properly,” he said.
French President Francois Hollande on Monday awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion d’honneur, to three U.S. citizens and a Briton who helped overpower the heavily-armed man on the Amsterdam to Paris train.
The suspect’s lawyer said on Sunday the gunman intended to rob people on board the train because he was hungry.
Khazzani said he knew he would never see his 26-year-old son again. “It is as if he were dead, now he will go to prison for a long time.”
He said he had not spoken to his son since he left Algeciras in 2014 although his wife spoke to him by phone about a month ago. He said his son left for France to work for a company there on a six-month contract but was fired within a month.
“He went because there was no work here,” he said.
Describing his son as a “good kid” who liked to fish and play football, he said he was very religious and did not smoke or drink alcohol.
El Mundo said Ayoub el Khazzani left Algeciras in 2014 when the Spanish police were “hard on his heels” because they suspected him of jihadist sympathies.
Sources told Reuters Ayoub el Khazzani was arrested at least once for drug trafficking in Spain and some Spanish newspapers said he may have been radicalised while in prison. His father denied he had ever possessed drugs.
According to Spanish security sources, he travelled to France in 2014 and went to Syria. French security sources said he went to Berlin airport for a flight to Istanbul on May 10 this year. Turkey is a preferred destination for would-be jihadists heading for Syria.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Sarah Morris and Janet Lawrence