Three Americans tackle, overpower suspected Islamist gunman on train to France, prevent massacre

Posted at 5:58 PM, Aug 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-22 07:04:17-04

The struggle was brief, bloody and chaotic.

The high-speed train was zipping from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday when a shirtless man emerged from the bathroom — a rifle slung over his shoulder, witnesses said.

A French passenger and three Americans — a civilian, an Air Force member and a National Guard member — jumped into action. They quickly tackled him, possibly averting a massacre aboard the train.

By the time the suspect was subdued, three people had nonlife-threatening injuries, said Anthony Blondeau, a spokesman for Arras city in northern France, where the train pulled up after the incident and the suspect was arrested. One of the Americans was among the injured.

In addition to the gun, the suspect had a bladed weapon and plenty of ammunition, authorities said.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Saturday in Paris that the French passenger was the first to intervene, followed quickly by the Americans.

The identity of the suspect is not yet fully established, but he could be a man of Moroccan origin, who lived in Spain in 2014 and Belgium in 2015, according to Cazeneuve.

‘My friend yells, ‘Get him!’

The three American men were traveling together when they heard shattering glass and people running, said Peter Skarlatos, the brother of Alek Skarlatos, one of the men who tackled the suspect.

They saw the gunman and decided to confront him, he said.

“My friend Alek Skarlatos yells, ‘Get him!,’ so my friend Spencer Stone immediately gets up to charge the guy, followed by Alek, then myself,” said Anthony Sadler, the civilian among the three. Stone is an Air Force member while Skarlatos is in the National Guard.

“The three of us beat up the guy,” Sadler said. “In the process, Spencer gets slashed multiple times by the box cutter, and Alek takes the AK away.”

Skarlatos seized the rifle and hit the suspect in the head with the muzzle.

“I begin to tie him up with help from Chris, another passenger,” Sadler said. “I notice a man had his throat cut at which (time) Spencer begins to apply pressure to the neck wound before he bled out.”

Spencer had injuries in the head and neck, and almost had his thumb cut off, according to Peter Skarlatos.

Stone and Sadler live in Sacramento, California, while Skarlatos is from Roseburg, Oregon.

Skarlatos had joined his friends on a European vacation after returning from Afghanistan.

A British man, Chris Norman, was in the same train carriage and helped to restrain the attacker after Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos leaped to tackle him.

Norman told a news conference he felt “relief that nobody actually got killed,” adding there was no question that “it could have been a real carnage.”

Official: Suspect had radical views

The train was rerouted to Arras, 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Paris, where the suspect was taken into custody.

Two people, one of them American, were hospitalized with serious injuries, said Blondeau, the spokesman for Arras.

The third person injured was French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, who has a light hand injury, Blondeau said.

The suspect is a Moroccan national and was on the radar screen of European counterterrorism agencies for his radical jihadist views, the European counterterrorism official said.

A second security source said French intelligence knew the suspect. It appeared he was sympathetic to ISIS, the official said, but a full determination on his motive and loyalties had yet to be reached.

The train attack has not officially been classified as an act of terrorism, although the senior European counterterrorism official indicated it could be.

Cazeneuve expressed “gratitude and admiration” on Friday for the U.S. military service members who helped tackle the gunman. He said the anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office in Paris would investigate.

Belgian authorities have also opened their own investigation, Cazeneuve added Saturday.

France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls similarly voiced his gratitude via Twitter to those who intervened to stop the attack, as well as his support for the victims.

‘Their heroic actions … prevented a far worse tragedy’

A White House official applauded the Americans involved.

“The President expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including U.S. service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker,” the official said.

“While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy. We will remain in close contact with French authorities as the investigation proceeds.”

A Pentagon spokesman said it is aware of the incident and confirmed that one U.S. military member was injured.

France has been the site of several lone-wolf terror attacks this year, including the killing of 17 people in Paris in attacks on a satiric magazine and a kosher store.

The trip between Paris and Amsterdam takes three hours and 16 minutes on the high-speed train and passes through Belgium.