France honors ‘heroes’ for train attack courage
President Francois Hollande bestowed France’s highest honor on a group of Americans and a Briton on Monday saying the whole world “admires their courage and cool composure” in overpowering a Moroccan gunman on a crowded train.
Anti-terror investigators were questioning the alleged attacker, 25-year-old Ayoub El Khazzani, who boarded the high-speed train in Brussels bound for Paris on Friday armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.
Witnesses said he opened fire, injuring a man before being wrestled to the floor and subdued by three young Americans — off-duty servicemen Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone and their student friend Anthony Sadler — and a Briton, 62-year-old business consultant Chris Norman.
Presenting them with the Legion d’Honneur at the Elysee presidential palace on Monday, Hollande said: “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 a risk to your own lives.
“You have shown us that, faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You have given a message of courage, solidarity and hope,” Hollande said.
A French passenger who also tackled the gunman was also due to be honored, but has chosen to stay anonymous.
Khazzani is said to have told investigators he is “dumbfounded” by accusations he was intending to carry out a terror attack, and insists he was only trying to rob passengers.
He said he merely stumbled upon a weapons stash in a park in Belgium and decided to use it to rob passengers, according to Sophie David, a lawyer who was temporarily assigned to his case when he was taken off the train in Arras, northern France.
‘Football and fishing’
Khazzani’s father on Sunday described his son as a “good boy” who preferred “football and fish- ing” to politics.
“I have no idea what he was thinking and I have not spoken to him for over a year,” Mohamed El Khazzani told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in Algeciras, Spain.
France’s counter-terrorism police can hold Khazzani for up to 96 hours without charge. Intelligence services in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain have previously flagged him as an Islamic extremist.
French President Francois Hollande, second left, awards U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, center, while Alek Skarlatos, a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, applauds at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, Aug. 24.