The Americans, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and civilian friend Anthony Sadler were on a train from Amsterdam to Paris when they subdued AK-47-wielding Moroccan national Ayoub El-Khazzani, leaping into action when El-Khazzani opened fire on the crowded train. Engish businessman Chris Norman assisted the men in restraining and hog-tying the assailant after a shot was fired and a train employee ran through the car.
At a Saturday press conference covered by The Telegraph, Norman told the international media that he was doing work on his computer when he "saw a man with a Kalashnikov. I said to myself, 'shit.'"
The Americans, friends on a European tour, were swift to react. "I heard an American saying, 'go get him,' then someone else saying, 'Don't you do that buddy,'" Norman said, "Then I realized the only way to survive was to go for him."
Airman Spencer Stone was injured in the struggle. The large, powerful Airman disarmed El-Khazzani but the attacker managed to slash him with a box cutter. ABC News reported that Spencer Stone left a medical facility in Lille, France on Saturday, his injured arm in a sling.
The Washington Post reported that Alek Skarlatos, who recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan, said Stone "ran a good 10 meters to get to the guy and we didn’t know that his gun wasn’t working or anything like that. Spencer just ran anyway."
The train stopped in the French town of Arras so authorities could take charge of El-Khazzani and attend to the few injured in the incident.The Telegraphposted a statement in English from the mayor of Arras, in which he said he gave medals to the men who "acted with such bravery" and that it was "a spontaneous gesture to reward those who stood up for democracy."
Reports indicate that the gunman has strong ties to Islamist militants. Reuters reported that El-Khazzani "known to European authorities as a suspected Islamist militant," while the Post noted that he "had been flagged by European counterterrorism authorities" in the past. The Telegraph also reported that El-Khazzani "was known to Belgian authorities" after they'd received intelligence from Spain.
Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler received a personal phone call from President Obama, reports the Post, and French President François Hollande thanked the trio and has plans to meet with them Sunday.
Photos by Philippe Huguen/AFP