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Blow-by-blow account of how heroes overpowered French train attacker

Today the French President Francois Hollande presented the four men with the Legion of Honor, one of France’s highest honours, at the Elysee Palace.

France Train Attack Source: Associated Press

“I CAME TO see my friends for my first trip to Europe and we stop a terrorist. It’s kind of crazy.”

Those are the words of Anthony Sadler, one of the three Americans who overpowered a gunman after he opened fire on a packed train between Amsterdam and Paris.

Friends, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, all on holidays in Europe, were among a group of people that managed to stop the gunman.

Stone is a member of the US Air Force, Skarlatos is a member of the National Guard who recently returned from Afghanistan, while Sadler is just a regular civilian.

The service men have given a blow-by-blow account of the incident. So, how did it go down?

train Source: Business Insider

Rush hour attack

The attack began at around 5.50pm local time (15.50pm GMT) when a French passenger discovered the gunman in a toilet with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder.

The passenger “who wanted to access the toilets in carriage 12, came across an individual with a Kalashnikov over his shoulder,” said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in a statement to reporters.

The man courageously tried to tackle him before the attacker fired several shots.

It was shortly after that the US servicemen charged the gunman, along with their friend, student Anthony Sadler, who said the attacker “didn’t stand a chance”.

France Train Attack Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, second right, U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, right, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, second from left, and U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley take their seats before a press conference Source: AP

‘Let’s go, go’

“I saw a guy entering the train with an AK (Kalashnikov rifle) and a handgun and I just looked over at Spencer and said ‘Let’s go, go’,” said off-duty US serviceman Alek Skarlatos in a Skype interview shown on France 24 and other TV stations.

The 22-year-old member of the National Guard in Oregon has only recently returned from service in Afghanistan.

(Spencer) jumped up and I followed behind him by about three seconds. Spencer got to the guy first, grabbed the guy by the neck, and I got the handgun away from the guy and threw it and then I grabbed the AK that was at his feet.

The gunman, who was known to French and Spanish counter-terrorism officials and is said to have travelled to Syria last year, had boarded the busy Thalystrain in Brussels.

“Spencer ran a good 10 metres to get to the guy, and we didn’t know that his gun wasn’t working or anything like that,” said Skarlatos in a separate interview shown on France’s BFMTV and other stations.

“Spencer just ran anyway and if anyone would’ve gotten shot, it would’ve been Spencer for sure.”

France Train Attack Anthony Sadler Source: AP

 ’Could have been carnage’ 

“He didn’t say anything. He was just telling us to give back his gun: ‘Give me back my gun! Give me back my gun!’,” said Sadler in the BFMTV interview.

Sadler described the attack to the Associated Press:

“As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, ‘Spencer, go!’ And Spencer runs down the aisle,” Sadler said. “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”

France Train Attack French President Francois Hollande, right, awards British businessman Chris Norman with the Legion of Honor at the Elysee Palace. Source: Associated Press

The trio were joined by 62-year-old British consultant Chris Norman, who also helped subdue the man.

“I was sitting at the front of the carriage,” said Norman in the BFMTV interview.

I came in at the end of it all and I guess just helped to get the guy under control. We ended up by tying him up.During the process, the guy actually pulled out a cutter and started cutting Spencer. He cut Spencer behind the neck. He nearly cut his thumb off. Spencer held him. We eventually got him under control.

France Train Attack Source: AP

Mobile phone footage from inside the train and played on several TV stations shows the suspect, a skinny man wearing white trousers and no shirt, flattened on the floor of the train with his hands and feet tied behind his back.

‘We would’ve all been in trouble’

Skarlatos said El-Khazzani “clearly had no firearms training whatsoever,” but if he “even just got lucky and did the right thing he would have been able to operate through all eight of those magazines and we would’ve all been in trouble, and probably wouldn’t be here today, along with a lot of other people.”

“It could have been a real carnage, no question about that,” said Norman.

Stone then went to help a Franco-American passenger who had been shot in the shoulder during the fight.

Reacting quickly 

“I’m just real proud of my friend that he reacted so quickly and so bravely,” said Sadler.

“Even after being injured (Stone) went to go help the other man who was bleeding also. Without his help, he would have died. The guy was bleeding from his neck profusely.”

France Train Attack Source: Associated Press

The French-American teacher was wounded in the neck with a gunshot wound and squirting blood. Stone described matter-of-factly that he “just stuck two of my fingers in his hole and found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped.”

He said he kept the position until paramedics arrived.

The gunman was arrested when the train with 554 passengers aboard stopped at Arras station in northern France about 10 minutes later.

Both Stone and the other injured passenger were taken to hospital, where they are said to be recovering well.

“(Spencer) is in good spirits. He’s in disbelief that it happened,” Sadler told BFMTV.

“I’m just a college student,” he added. “I came to see my friends for my first trip to Europe and we stop a terrorist. It’s kind of crazy.”

AFP reports that a French passenger who also tackled the gunman has chosen to stay anonymous.

 Legion of Honor 

Today the French President Francois Hollande presented the four men with the Legion of Honor, one of France’s highest honours, at the Elysee Palace.

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

France Train Attack Source: Associated Press

Gunman identified

The gunman has been identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani. He is being detained and questioned by French counterterrorism police outside Paris.

French and Spanish authorities say El-Khazzani is an Islamic extremist who may have spent time in Syria. El-Khazzani’s lawyer said on Sunday that he was homeless and trying to rob passengers on the train to feed himself.

“He is dumbfounded that his action is being characterised as terrorism,” she said.

Authorities in France Belgium and Spain, where he once lived, are investigating the case. French authorities can legally hold him for questioning until Tuesday, when they must charge him or free him.

El-Khazzani claims to have found the weapons in a park near the Brussels train station where he had been sleeping, stashed them for several days and then decided to hold up train passengers.

Spanish authorities said El-Khazzani had lived with his parents in the southern city of Algeciras until last year and had a police record for drug-dealing.

It was unclear how long he was in Spain.

However, Spain notified French intelligence in February 2014, and he was placed on a watch list of potentially dangerous individuals.

With reporting from AFP, Associated Press and Business Insider 

Read: Man with Irish accent wanted by UK police for late night takeaway attack that broke man’s jaw>

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