Wednesday 18 October 2017

Four who thwarted train attack receive France's top honour

French president Francois Hollande kisses US airman Spencer Stone, while Alek Skarlatos applauds after they were awarded the Legion of Honour in Paris (AP)
French president Francois Hollande kisses US airman Spencer Stone, while Alek Skarlatos applauds after they were awarded the Legion of Honour in Paris (AP)
Student Anthony Sadler, US Airman Spencer Stone, US ambassador to France Jane Hartley and US National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos (AP)

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.

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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