PARIS — Three Americans and a Briton who tackled an attacker bristling with guns and ammunition prevented carnage on the high-speed train carrying 500 passengers to Paris, France’s president said Aug. 24, presenting the men with the Legion of Honor and praised them as an example of the need for action when faced with terrorism.
President Francois Hollande said the two Americans who first tackled the gunman were soldiers, “but on Friday you were simply passengers. You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men.”
Hollande then pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their longtime 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, who also jumped into the fray, also received the medal.
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,” Hollande said.
The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, is detained and being questioned by French counterterrorism police outside Paris.
El-Khezzani’s lawyer said her client doesn’t 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, casual in vacation-style polo shirts and khakis against the backdrop of the highly formal Presidential palace, appeared slightly overwhelmed as they received France’s highest honor.
His arm in a sling, Stone, 23, has said he was coming out of a deep sleep when the gunman appeared.
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, Hollande said, a “veritable carnage” was avoided.
“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,” Hollande said.