France awards top honour to train heroes

French President Francois Hollande with (from left) Mr Chris Norman, Mr Anthony Sadler, Mr Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, who received Legion d'Honneur medals.
French President Francois Hollande with (from left) Mr Chris Norman, Mr Anthony Sadler, Mr Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, who received Legion d'Honneur medals.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
French President Francois Hollande with Mr Chris Norman, Mr Anthony Sadler, Mr Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, who received Legion d'Honneur medals (above).
French President Francois Hollande with Mr Chris Norman, Mr Anthony Sadler, Mr Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, who received Legion d'Honneur medals (above).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Four men who stopped gunman prevented a 'real carnage', says President Francois Hollande

PARIS • French President Francois Hollande has awarded France's highest honour, the Legion d'Honneur, to three Americans and a Briton , praising their actions in overpowering a suspected Islamist militant on a train as preventing "a real carnage".

The Moroccan gunman, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, was on a high-speed train to Paris from Amsterdam when he was tackled and pinned to the floor last Friday by American off-duty servicemen Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, and their student friend Anthony Sadler, with the help of 62-year-old British business consultant Chris Norman.

"A terrorist decided to commit an attack. He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out a real carnage, and that's what he would have done if you hadn't tackled him at risk to your own lives," Mr Hollande said in a ceremony at the Elysee presidential palace yesterday.

"You have shown us that, faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You have given a message of courage, solidarity and hope."

The three Americans, who grew up together near Sacramento, California, were touring Europe, partly to celebrate Mr Skarlatos' return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

SETTING A BRAVE EXAMPLE

"You have shown us that, faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You have given a message of courage, solidarity and hope."

FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, to three Americans and a Briton who were awarded France's highest honour, the Legion d'Honneur

"I did not want you to return to your countries without receiving this honour," said Mr Hollande.

The trio said they had no choice but to react when they saw the gunman cocking his assault rifle.

Mr Stone said that he choked him, while Mr Skarlatos hit him on the head with one of the gunman's other firearms.

They said the gunman was apparently untrained in firearms and that he could have used all his firepower to devastating effect if he had known more about weapons.

Speaking as he left the Elysee, with his medal pinned to his suit, Mr Norman said that it was "a little bit difficult to believe that it's actually happened".

"I think that one way or another, we are going to be facing this kind of problem quite a few times in the future, and I would invite you all to think about 'what would I do in that situation'," he said. "Act if the opportunity presents itself. Obviously you don't want to throw yourself in a situation that is completely hopeless, but act if you can."

The awards came a day after it was revealed that one of the Americans, Mr Stone, also appeared to have saved the life of a fellow passenger. The 23-year-old recounted at a news conference on Sunday how he plugged the blood-spurting wound of the passenger with his fingers after himself being injured by the would-be attacker.

"I went over, saw that he was squirting blood out of the left or right side of his neck," said Mr Stone, who had a cut above his right eye and his left arm in a sling to protect his injured hand.

"And I was going to use my shirt at first, but I realised that wasn't going to work, so I just stuck two of my fingers in the hole, found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped."

The man helped by Mr Stone remains hospitalised. US Ambassador to France Jane Hartley said at the news conference that he was "doing pretty well".

Mr Stone also thanked the doctors who reattached his thumb, which was almost severed by the gunman, who was armed with a box cutter, a pistol and the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

A French passenger who also tackled the gunman when he discovered him preparing the attack in a toilet is also being honoured, but has chosen to stay anonymous.

Mr Stone said the man "deserves a lot of the credit" because he was the first one to try to stop the gunman.

The alleged assailant was named by intelligence sources as Ayoub El Khazzani, 26. His lawyer said on Sunday that Khazzani, is "dumbfounded" at having been taken for an Islamist militant, and says he had only intended to rob people on board because he was hungry.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'France awards top honour to train heroes'. Print Edition | Subscribe