Tragedy averted by train passengers who disarmed gunman

World Today

(L-R) Anthony Sadler, from Pittsburg, California, Aleck Sharlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, two men who helped to disarm an attacker on a train from Amsterdam to France, tell the fact to journalists at a restaurant in Arras, France August 22, 2015. A machine gun-toting attacker wounded three people on a high-speed train in France on Friday before being overpowered by passengers who included an American soldier. The wounded were the soldier, French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, and a Briton. Local media reported that U.S. Marines were among those who brought down the gunman. Officials said the attacker was arrested after the shooting when the Amsterdam to Paris train stopped at Arras station in northern France. Photo by CFP

France says the train-attack suspect has been positively identified as a young Moroccan. And, now anti-terrorism investigators across Europe say they’ve been tracking his movements for more than a year. That includes contacts in Spain, Germany, Turkey and Belgium.

France has had him on a security watch list since February of 2014. CCTV’s Jack Barton filed this report on the suspect and those who interrupted his deadly rampage.

Three wounded and two critically on Paris-bound train

France says the train-attack suspect has been positively identified as a young Moroccan. And, now anti-terrorism investigators across Europe say they've been tracking his movements for more than a year. That includes contacts in Spain, Germany, Turkey and Belgium. France has had him on a security watch list since February of 2014. CCTV's Jack Barton filed this report on the suspect and those who interrupted his deadly rampage.

More Details:

  • A French official involved in the investigation has reportedly said the gunman has now been positively identified as Ayoub El-Khazzani.
  • El-Khazzani was under police surveillance after allegedly travelling to Syria last year and French officials had already indicated they believed he’s the man they have in custody.

As the train passed through Belgium, a French citizen trying to use the toilet encountered and tried to subdue the gunman, who had the assault rifle strapped across his shoulder, Cazeneuve said. Bullets started flying and two American servicemen, with help from an American friend and a Briton, tackled and disarmed him.

“Without their sangfroid we could have been confronted with a terrible drama,” Cazeneuve said.

The Briton, businessman Chris Norman, said he was working on his computer when he heard a shot and glass breaking and saw a train worker running. The servicemen — U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon — and their friend, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University in California, heard glass breaking at the same time.

“I knew we had to do something or he was just going to kill people,” Skarlatos told Oregon television station KEZI. “I mean he wasn’t shooting at the time so I figured it was a good time to do it.”

Sadler told The Associated Press that they saw a train employee sprint down the aisle followed by a man with an automatic rifle.

“As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, ‘Spencer, go!’ And Spencer runs down the aisle,” Sadler said. “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a box cutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”

Norman said he was the fourth to jump into the fray, grabbing the gunman’s right arm and tying it with his tie.

“He had a Kalashnikov, he had a magazine full …. My thought was, OK, probably I’m going to die anyway. So, let’s go,” he said. “I’d rather die being active.”

Video showed a blood-spattered scene on the train, with the gunman prostrate and shirtless, his hands tied behind his back. Authorities said that in addition to the guns, he had nine loaded magazines for the Kalashnikov. Skarlatos, who served in Afghanistan, said that when he examined the assault rifle, he found that the gunman had tried to fire it but that it didn’t go off because it had a bad primer.

Sadler said the gunman remained silent throughout the brief incident. But with the weapons he carried, “he was there to do business,” Skarlatos said in an interview shown on French television.

French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, who cut his finger it to the bone while activating the train’s emergency alarm, heaped praise on the Americans, recounting the high emotion of the episode to Paris Match.

“I thought it was the end, that we would die,” he said. “Yes, we saw ourselves dying because we were prisoners in this train and it was impossible to escape the nightmare.”

The train, in Belgium, was rerouted to Arras in northern France, the nearest station, where El-Khazzani was arrested.

In addition to Anglade, the others injured were Stone, who was taken to a hospital in nearby Lille with a hand injury, and an unidentified dual French-American citizen with a bullet wound who was helicoptered to another hospital in Lille.

Stone, of Carmichael, California, was released from the hospital later Saturday. A heavily guarded caravan was seen arriving Saturday night at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, apparently escorting Stone and Sadler, both 23, and Skarlatos, 22. The three friends had been traveling together in Europe. President Barack Obama telephoned them Saturday to commend and congratulate them, the White House said. They and the Frenchman who first confronted the gunman are to meet Monday with French President Francois Hollande.

Story compiled with information from The Associated Press.

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