Saturday 3 December 2016

France awards four tourists top honour for restraining suspected terrorist on packed passenger train

Published 24/08/2015 | 11:53

From the left, British businessman Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
From the left, British businessman Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
From the left, British businessman Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
French President Francois Hollande, right, awards British businessman Chris Norman with the Legion of Honor at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley (2ndR), three U.S. citizens, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos (L), Airman First Class Spencer Stone (2ndL) and student Anthony Sadler leave after a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
From the left, British businessman Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
Anthony Sadler, center with orange shirt, a senior at Sacramento University in California , U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, fourth right, U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, third left, and their families pose with U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, fourth left, on the steps of the Elysee Palace before being awarded with the Legion of Honor, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
U.S. National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos adjusts the Legion d'Honneur (the Legion of Honour) medal on U.S. Airman First Class Spencer Stone (L) during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Michel Euler/Pool
A French railway security worker (front C) attends the Legion d'Honneur (the Legion of Honour) award ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Michel Euler/Pool
The Legion d'Honneur (the Legion of Honour) medals for the three Americans and the British businessman are pictured on a cushion during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Catherine Gaschka/Pool
French President Francois Hollande (L) poses with U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley (C), three U.S. citizens National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos (2ndL), Airman First Class Spencer Stone (2ndR) and student Anthony Sadler as they leave after a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
French President Francois Hollande (L) awards U.S. Airman First Class Spencer Stone (R) with the Legion d'Honneur (the Legion of Honour) medal during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Michel Euler/Pool
French President Francois Hollande (L) awards U.S. Airman First Class Spencer Stone (C) with the Legion d'Honneur (the Legion of Honour) medal as U.S. National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos applauds during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Michel Euler/Pool

Three Americans and a British man who restrained a heavily armed man on a passenger train speeding through Belgium have received France's top honour.

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French president Francois Hollande pinned the Legion of Honour medal on US Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest.

The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray and helped restrain the gunman.

Mr Hollande said the men showed "that faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You also gave a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope".

The alleged gunman, identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, is being questioned in custody by French counter-terrorism police outside Paris.

Mr Hollande said the two Americans who first tackled the gunman were soldiers, "but on Friday you were simply passengers".

He added: "You behaved as soldiers, but also as responsible men."

El-Khezzani's lawyer said her client does not understand the suspicions of terrorism, media attention or even that a person was wounded. For him, there were no gunshots fired, Sophie David said.

The Americans, wearing polo shirts and khakis against the backdrop of the highly formal presidential palace, appeared slightly overwhelmed as they received France's highest honour.

Mr Stone, 23, whose arm was in a sling, has said he was coming out of a deep sleep when the gunman appeared.

He said Mr Skarlatos, a 22-year-old National Guardsman recently back from Afghanistan, "just hit me on the shoulder and said: 'Let's go.'"

With those words, Mr Hollande said, a "veritable carnage" was avoided.

He said: "Since Friday, the entire world admires your courage, your sangfroid, your spirit of solidarity. This is what allowed you to, with bare hands - your bare hands - to subdue an armed man.

"This must be an example for all, and a source of inspiration."

Speaking in French after receiving the medal, Mr Norman said it was less a question of heroism than survival.

He said: "I hope this doesn't happen to you, but I ask you to really think: OK, what will I do if this happens? Am I going to simply stand still or am I going to try to be active if the situation presents itself?"

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