Legion Of Honor For U.S & UK Heroes
Three Americans and a Briton who foiled a suspected terror attack on a train have received France's top honour from President Francois Hollande. Mr Hollande presented Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Briton Chris Norman with the Legion d'honneur at the Elysee Palace. Two other unnamed passengers will receive the honour at a later date. The passengers overpowered a suspected radical Islamist on a high-speed train bound for Paris on Friday.
Before the awards, he said: "We are here to honour four men who, thanks to their bravery, managed to save lives. In the name of France, I would like to thank you. The whole world admires your bravery. It should be an example to all of us and inspire us. You put your lives at risk in order to defend freedom." Mr Hollande said: "A terrorist decided to commit an attack. He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out real carnage, and that's what he would have done if you hadn't tackled him at a risk to your own lives. You gave us a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope. Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that is humanity. You are the incarnation of that."
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and the US Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, attended the ceremony, along with the head of the French rail firm, SNCF. The Legion d'honneur was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The award is divided into five categories and the passengers are expected to receive the chevalier, the most commonly awarded. A French-American passenger who was wounded in the attack, and a French citizen who first encountered the gunman and tried to overpower him, will receive the honour later. Mr Hollande named the French-American as 51-year-old Mark Moogalian, who is still in hospital. The other man wishes to remain anonymous. The Americans spoke on Sunday about the incident.
Mr Stone, an off-duty US airman, said he had just woken from a deep sleep when he saw the gunman and moved to restrain him. "I turned around and I saw he had what looked to be an AK-47 and it looked like it was jammed or wasn't working and he was trying to charge the weapon. Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said 'Let's go' and ran down, tackled him. We hit the ground." Mr Stone was the first of the three to reach the gunman. He was cut in the neck and on the eyebrow, and his thumb was almost sliced off. Mr Stone also tended to Mr Moogalian, who had been shot in the neck. "I just stuck two of my fingers in the hole, found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped," he said. "I just said 'Thank God' and held that position until the paramedics got there." Mr Hollande said Mr Stone had "probably saved Mr Moogalian's life".
Mr Skarlatos, a member of the US National Guard, said his initial reaction was "mostly just gut instinct", and that military training had only played a role in providing medical help and making sure there were no accomplices. Mr Sadler said: "The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. I want that lesson to be learned, in times of terror like that, to please do something. Don't just stand by and watch." British grandfather Chris Norman, an IT expert, said he helped the Americans subdue the gunman because he thought he was "probably going to die anyway".
Under French law, authorities have until Tuesday evening to question the suspect. Sophie David, a lawyer assigned to the case for Mr Khazzani, said the Moroccan was "dumbfounded that his act is being linked to terrorism" and that he had said he found the weapons in a Belgian park and wanted to rob passengers. Mr Khazzani's father, Mohamed el-Khazzani, told the Daily Telegraph in Algeciras, Spain, that his son was a "good boy" interested in "football and fishing". "I have no idea what he was thinking and I have not spoken to him for over a year," Mohamed el-Khazzani said. Ayoub el-Khazzani was flagged up to French authorities by Spanish counterparts in February 2014. He is reported to have lived in France, Spain, and Belgium and to have travelled to Syria.
Security aboard the high-speed Thalys service on which the incident took place is being stepped up. The trains link major cities in the Netherlands and Belgium to Paris. Patrols and security checks will also be boosted at international train stations. France's security services have placed been on high alert since January when Islamist militants killed 17 people in and around Paris - including the attacks at the offices of satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.