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France Awards Heroes for Train Attack 'Courage' With Legion of Honor

France Awards Heroes for Train Attack 'Courage' With Legion of Honor
From L-R: French President Francois Hollande, U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, as they leave the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, after being awarded with the French Legion of Honor. (AP)

Monday, 24 August 2015 06:34 AM

President Francois Hollande on Monday bestowed France's highest honor on a group of Americans and a Briton who overpowered a Moroccan gunman on a crowded train, saying the whole world "admires their courage and cool composure".

Anti-terror investigators were questioning the alleged attacker, 25-year-old Ayoub El Khazzani, who boarded the high-speed train in Brussels bound for Paris on Friday armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.

Witnesses said he opened fire, injuring a man before being wrestled to the floor and subdued by three young Americans -- off-duty servicemen Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone and their student friend Anthony Sadler -- and a Briton, 62-year-old business consultant Chris Norman.

Presenting them with the Legion d'Honneur at the Elysee presidential palace, Hollande said: "A terrorist decided to commit an attack. He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out a real carnage, and that's what he would have done if you hadn't tackled him at a risk to your own lives.

"You have shown us that, faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You have given a message of courage, solidarity and hope."

A French passenger who also tackled the gunman was due to be honored too, but has chosen to stay anonymous.

Speaking as he left the Elysee, his medal pinned to his suit, Norman said it was "a little bit difficult to believe that it's actually happened".

"I think that one way or another, we are going to be facing this kind of problem quite a few times in the future, and I would invite you all to think about 'what would I do in that situation'.

"Act if the opportunity presents itself. Obviously you don't want to throw yourself in a situation that is completely hopeless, but act if you can."



Khazzani is said to have told investigators he is "dumbfounded" by accusations he was intending to carry out a terror attack.

He said he had stumbled upon a weapons stash in a park in Belgium and decided to use it to rob passengers, according to Sophie David, a lawyer who was temporarily assigned to his case when he was taken off the train in Arras, northern France.

Khazzani's father described his son as a "good boy" who preferred "football and fishing" to politics.

"I have no idea what he was thinking and I have not spoken to him for over a year," Mohamed El Khazzani told British newspaper The Telegraph in Algeciras, Spain on Sunday.

Intelligence services in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain had previously flagged him as an Islamic extremist.

French security has been on high alert since the Islamist attacks in Paris in January left 17 people dead.

One of the Americans who overpowered him said if Khazzani had known how to handle guns, he could have killed many people.

"He clearly had no firearms training whatsoever," National Guardsman Skarlatos, 22, told reporters on Sunday.

"If he knew what he was doing or even got lucky and did the right thing, he would have been able to operate through all eight of the magazines and we probably wouldn't be here today along with a lot of other people."

A Spanish counter-terrorism source said Khazzani had lived in Spain for seven years until 2014. He came to the attention of Spanish authorities for making hardline speeches defending jihad.

It is unclear where he was living after he left Spain, and he appears to have travelled to several countries including Germany and Belgium where he boarded the train.



Khazzani is accused of emerging from a toilet cubicle on the high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris, brandishing the weapons, just after it crossed from Belgium into northern France.

The French passenger tried to disarm him but he got away and fired at least one shot, wounding a French-American traveller in his 50s.

Sadler, 23, dismissed suggestions that Khazzani was not trying to kill anyone.

"It doesn't take eight magazines to rob a train," he told reporters on Sunday.

Stone, who serves in the US Air Force, ran to the gunman first to tackle him and was slashed in the neck and on the eyebrow and almost had his thumb sliced off with a box-cutter.

"The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up," said Sadler. "I want that lesson to be learned. In times of terror like that to please do something. Don't just stand by and watch."



© AFP 2019

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President Francois Hollande on Monday bestowed France's highest honor on a group of Americans and a Briton who overpowered a Moroccan gunman on a crowded train, saying the whole world admires their courage and cool composure .Anti-terror investigators were questioning the...
France, train, attack
Monday, 24 August 2015 06:34 AM
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