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US Army Awards Medal to Guardsman Who Helped Stop Train Attack

  • VOA News

National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos at a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, Aug. 23, 2015.

National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos at a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, Aug. 23, 2015.

The U.S. Defense Department says one of the Americans who helped subdue a Moroccan national alleged to have planned an attack on a high speed train will be awarded one of the U.S. Army's highest honors.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that Aleksander Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon National Guard, will be awarded the Soldiers Medal -- an award the army calls the "highest award for acts of heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy."

Skarlatos was one of three Americans who, along with a British national, confronted a heavily armed man on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday. Skarlatos' citation notes that he risked his own life to prevent a "potentially catastrophic loss of life." Secretary of the Army John McHugh said the National Guardsman's actions, as well as those of his comrades, "exemplify the highest standards of selfless service."

On Tuesday French prosecutors charged the suspect, 25-year-old Ayoub El-Khazzani, with premeditated attempted murder of a terrorist nature.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters that Khazzani boarded the train Friday in Brussels armed with an assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition. He said the suspect also carried a Luger pistol, a bottle filled with gasoline, and a box cutter.

Molins also said the suspect watched a radical Islamist video on his phone moments before he was confronted and subdued by three Americans and a Briton as he started walking through the train. Another man, a Franco-American, was shot and wounded as he tried to wrestle the rifle from the gunman. The victim remained hospitalized Tuesday.

The prosecutor also dismissed the suspect's story that he found the weapons cache and the mobile phone in a park where he was sleeping the night before. Molins described those claims as "absurd."

The prosecutor also dismissed as "far-fetched" claims by Khazzani that he had no terrorism plan when he boarded the train, and that he intended to rob passengers.

French security sources have been quoted as saying that Khazzani flew from Berlin to Istanbul on May 10. The French news agency, quoting Molins, said the suspect later flew to a Turkish city near the Syrian border, arriving there on June 4.

On Monday, French President Francois Hollande bestowed the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration, on the four passengers who subdued Khazzani.

At a ceremony in Paris, Hollande pinned medals on the chests of Briton Chris Norman and Americans Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Anthony Sadler. He said their actions last week in the face of terror provided "a message of courage, solidarity and hope."

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