A former US airman, scheduled to appear as a star witness at the Paris trial of an Islamic State operative, has been hospitalised in the French capital leaving him unable to attend the crucial hearing.
Spencer Stone was due to appear in court on Thursday to testify about the role he played in the infamous capture of Ayoub El Khazzani, the gunman who boarded a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015 carrying multiple deadly weapons.
El Khazzani, a 31-year-old Moroccan, is on trial alongside three suspected accomplices; he risks serving life in prison if convicted of attempted terrorist murder.
Mr Stone’s lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, said he was unable to provide details about why his client was in hospital, citing medical privacy, but did confirm the American would not testify on Thursday afternoon as planned.
“I know that he is hospitalised. I don’t know why. I don’t know how he is,” Mr de Montbrial told reporters.
“The only thing I’m certain of is that he is not in a state to testify today. We are going to regroup this evening to gauge whether he can be heard tomorrow morning or afternoon.”
Mr Stone was 23 years old when he, along with two other Americans, a British national and an off-duty conductor, overpowered El Khazzani aboard the moving train, preventing him from committing mass murder.
The dramatic incident on 21 August 2015 saw Mr Stone and his fellow passengers lauded as heroes; they received the Legion of Honour from then French president Francois Hollande, as well as official recognition from then US president Barack Obama. Hollywood director Clint Eastwood later made a film about the near disaster, 2018’s The 15:17 to Paris.
El Khazzani boarded the train in Brussels armed with a Kalashnikov, nine clips with 30 rounds each, an automatic pistol and a cutter, according to investigators. Once aboard the train, El Khazzani lingered in a restroom before emerging bare-chested with his weapons.
Another key witness, Mark Magoolian, was scheduled to testify on Thursday afternoon. Mr Magoolian, a French-American who wrestled the Kalashnikov off El Khazzani, was shot by a pistol in the process.
Mr Stone was also left injured after the gunman’s cutter snagged his hand. The American is credited with saving Mr Magoolian’s life, after attending to him once his neck reportedly began squirting blood following the pistol wound.
Investigators have said Mr Stone was coming round from a deep sleep when gunman El Khazzani appeared bearing arms. He and a friend, Alek Skarlatos, then a 22-year-old US national guardsman recently back from Afghanistan, successfully tackled the gunman.
While Mr Skarlatos is scheduled to testify at the trial on Friday, it is not yet clear when Mr Stone will now appear in court.
The trial could not come at a more contentious time in France after a spate of terror attacks left the country reeling in recent months. Both attacks have since been linked to Isis; one saw the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty, while the other was the Nice terror attack in which an elderly woman was beheaded and two other people killed.