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US Serviceman in Train Attack Was Thinking of 'Survival'

  • VOA News

One of the three Americans who overpowered a heavily armed gunman on a high-speed train traveling between Amsterdam and Paris described tackling the gunman during a news conference Sunday in Paris.

Spencer Stone, who was injured in the attack, said he thought of his survival as well as everyone else's on the train during the rough and tumble takedown of the suspect.

Stone and fellow Americans Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler spoke to the press from the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Stone said what happened Friday hasn't really sunk in yet. "It feels very unreal, feels like a dream," he said on Sunday.

In talking about the suspect, a 26-year-old radical Islamist identified by officials as Ayoub El-Khazzani, Stone said, "He seemed ready to fight to the end and so were we."

Praised actions

French President Francois Hollande thanked U.S. President Barack Obama by telephone Saturday for the "exemplary" actions of U.S. servicemen Skarletos and Stone, saying they stopped what would have been "an extremely serious attack."

Hollande said he plans to meet personally in "the coming days" with all of those involved in overcoming the would-be attacker.

Skarletos, also a U.S. serviceman, Stone and American student Sadler were joined by Briton Chris Norman in subduing the Moroccan-born gunman, who seriously wounded at least one passenger before he was swarmed.

U.S. Air Force Airman Stone, who led the charge against the gunman, was hospitalized with serious injuries, after being slashed in the neck and hand by the attacker with a box cutter. He wore a sling on his left arm Sunday.

The White House said Obama spoke Saturday by phone with Stone to wish him a speedy recovery and to extend the gratitude of all Americans for his "extraordinary bravery" aboard the train.

Spanish authorities said they have identified the attacker as a 26-year-old radical Islamist who spent time in Syria during the past year.

The suspect, identified by officials as Ayoub El-Khazzani, lived for about a year in the southern port of Algeciras before moving to France in 2014 and then to Syria.

Police officers conduct their investigation on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train after a gunman wounded three people before being overpowered, at Arras station, northern France, Aug. 21, 2015.

Police officers conduct their investigation on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train after a gunman wounded three people before being overpowered, at Arras station, northern France, Aug. 21, 2015.

Attack

Briton Chris Norman, who lives in France, said the gunman walked into his railway car carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a handgun and a box-cutter knife.

Norman, a grandfather who works on financing for African business projects, spoke Saturday to reporters in Arras, France. He said his first instinct was to duck for cover when the gunman began shouting at the train passengers.

"Then I heard one of the Americans shout 'Go get him!' and the other said something like, 'Don't you do that, buddy!' and they charged him," Norman said.

Skarletos said, “Spencer ran a good 10 meters to get to the guy and we didn’t know his gun wasn’t working or anything like that.

"Spencer just ran anyway. And if anybody would have gotten shot, it would have been Spencer for sure. And we’re very lucky that nobody got killed, especially Spencer," he added.

In reconstructing the faceoff, authorities found the gunman had already shot one person in an adjacent car before entering the compartment where Norman and the Americans were seated.

When the Americans charged, Norman recalled thinking "I'm probably going to die anyway, so let's go."

He said he decided to "try to act as a team" with the two American servicemen and the student.

'Quite a battle'

He said the attacker "put up quite a battle."

"I helped hold his arms," Norman said, and the Americans hog-tied the Moroccan – tying his wrists behind his back and lashing them to his ankles, using the Briton's necktie.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve attends a news conference at the Interior ministry in Paris, France, Aug. 22, 2015.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve attends a news conference at the Interior ministry in Paris, France, Aug. 22, 2015.

Applauds quick action

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve applauded the quick action, saying it likely averted a bloodbath.

"Without their courage, we would have surely faced a terrible tragedy," Cazeneuve said. French authorities have been on high alert since Islamic militants killed 17 people in and around Paris in January.

Sadler, the American student who helped rush the attacker, is a friend of the two U.S. servicemen.

"I'm just a college student, it's my last year in college," he said. "I came to see my friends on my first trip in Europe and we stopped a terrorist. It's kind of crazy!"

The attack took place Friday, as the train sped through Belgium with 554 people on board. After the incident, the train was diverted to Arras in northern France.

Lisa Bryant contributed to this report from Paris.

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