22 Aug 2015

French train shooting: hero passengers overpower gunman

Three American soldiers and a British businessman are being hailed as heroes after restraining a heavily armed attacker on a train in France.

Three American soldiers and a British businessman are being hailed as heros after overpowering a heavily armed attacker on a train in France.

Chris Norman, a 62-year-old British consultant, told reporters he had been sitting in the same carriage as the Americans when they heard a shot: “I looked up and saw a guy carrying an AK-47 or at least I assume it was some kind of machine-gun.”

He added: “It could have been a real carnage, there’s no question about that.”

Alek Skarlatos, a 22-year-old member of the U.S. National Guard, said his friend, who is also in the military, had been injured while he grappled with the gunman.

He said: “I just got back from Afghanistan last month, and this was my vacation from Afghanistan.”

Photos from the scene show one of the injured, believed to be a US soldier, and the attacker being arrested.

Known to security services

It has been revealed the gunman is known to European authorities as a suspected Islamist militant if the identity he has given is correct.

French and Spanish press have named the gunman as Ayoub El-Kahzzani tonight. It’s thought he recently travelled to Syria yet was not considered a sufficient threat to put under surveillance.

It has been reported that the suspect was known to three European intelligence agencies, and Belgium has announced extra security patrols on its high-speed trains.

France’s interior minister said on Saturday that if he was telling the truth “he is a 26-year-old man of Moroccan nationality identified by the Spanish authorities to French intelligence services in February 2014 because of his connections to the radical Islamist movement”.

The man Spanish authorities had under surveillance left Spain for France in 2014, travelled to Syria, and then back to France, a Spanish counter-terrorism source said on Saturday.

In Spain, he lived in the southern port of Algeciras and appeared to have stayed in the country for about a year, the source said.

Photo credit: Christina Cathleen Coons / @FreedomFilmLLC

Three people were injured in the attack, two of them seriously, but that figure is likely to have been higher if the men had not stopped the attacker.

Commending the involvement of the soldiers, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, “Without their courage we would have surely faced a terrible tragedy.”

United States President Barack Obama said expressed his “profound gratitude” to the train passengers, including US military personel and a Brit businessman “who selflessly subdued the attacker.”

France on high-alert

Earlier reports said a Brit was one of the injured, but the Foreign office has said it has no reports of any additional British involvement.

Officials said the attacker was arrested after the shooting when the Amsterdam to Paris train stopped at Arras station in northern France.

A French ministry spokesman said the gunman’s motives were not known. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the French anti-terrorism prosecutor was investigating the incident.

Read more: France's problem with Islamist extremism

France has been on high security alert since Islamist militants killed 17 people in and around Paris in January.

Twelve people were shot dead at the offices of controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and five were killed during a siege at a Jewish supermarket.

In June, a man who had been investigated for links to Islamist radicals caused an explosion by driving his car into an area which had flammable liquids and beheaded a man, believed to be his boss.