Europe

France train shooting: Hollande awards Legion d'honneur

  • 24 August 2015
  • From the section Europe
Media captionFrench president Francois Hollande: "They showed us what can be done"

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.

French authorities are questioning the suspect, 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani.

France train shooting: Legion d'honneur recipients

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Profile: Ayoub El-Khazzani

What we know

Mr Hollande pinned medals on the chests of the four passengers at a ceremony in Paris on Monday morning.

"We are here to honour four men who, thanks to their bravery, managed to save lives," he said.

"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."

Image caption Mr Hollande told Mr Stone and Mr Skarlatos: "You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men"

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."

He added: "Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that is humanity. You are the incarnation of that."


Analysis: BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris

This was France's formal thank you to the men who set such an extraordinary example by their courage on Friday's train. The government here is making a big deal of the four heroes (plus their anonymous French helper) - and for good reason.

If the jihadist threat is to remain with us - and nothing suggests that it will stop - the behaviour of individuals towards the imminence of violence could become a crucial factor. If more people are willing to risk their lives by standing up to fight, then that will shift the psychological battle in favour of our societies.

Governments know this - so do all they can to honour the people who make a stand.


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 receiving 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 president said he wished to pay tribute to both of them for their bravery.

Mr Moogalian's wife told BFM TV her husband had seen the Frenchman tackle the suspect and had tried to intervene but was shot in the neck.

Media captionFootage showed the gunman in the train carriage after he was subdued

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.


Legion d'honneur

Image caption Legion d'honneur medals being prepared for American World War II veterans
  • Established in May 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Has five classes (in ascending order) - Chevalier, Officier, Commandeur, Grand Officier, Grand Croix
  • Chevalier is the most common - awarded for either at least 20 years of public service or acts of military or civil bravery
  • The other categories require a number of years of service in the category below before they can be awarded. All categories have quotas
  • The serving president is the order's Grand Master

Mr Stone also tended to Mr Moogalian, who had been shot in the neck.

Mr Hollande said Mr Stone had "probably saved Mr Moogalian's life".

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."

Media captionThe three Americans who helped subdue the gunman speak about their experience

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".

He said after receiving his award on Monday: "I am amazed and I really appreciate this honour."

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.

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