PARIS – The men who helped overpower and subdue a gunman after he opened fire on a packed train between Amsterdam and Paris have given a blow-by-blow account of the incident.
“I saw a guy entering the train with an AK [Kalashnikov rifle] and a handgun and I just looked over at Spencer and said ‘Let’s go, go’,” said off-duty U.S. serviceman Alek Skarlatos in a Skype interview shown on France 24 and other TV stations.
Skarlatos, a 22-year-old member of the National Guard in Oregon who recently returned from service in Afghanistan, was traveling with Spencer Stone, who is in the U.S. Air Force.
“[Spencer] jumped up and I followed behind him by about three seconds. Spencer got to the guy first, grabbed the guy by the neck, and I got the handgun away from the guy and threw it and then I grabbed the AK that was at his feet.”
The gunman, who was known to French and Spanish counter-terrorism officials and is said to have traveled to Syria last year, had boarded the busy Thalys train in Brussels.
“Spencer ran a good 10 meters to get to the guy, and we didn’t know that his gun wasn’t working or anything like that,” said Skarlatos in a separate interview shown on France’s BFMTV and other stations.
“Spencer just ran anyway and if anyone would’ve gotten shot, it would’ve been Spencer for sure.”
‘Could have been carnage’
The attack began at around 5:50 p.m. (1550 GMT) when a French passenger discovered the gunman in a toilet with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder.
The passenger “who wanted to access the toilets in carriage 12, came across an individual with a Kalashnikov over his shoulder,” said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in a statement to reporters.
He “courageously tried to tackle him before the attacker fired several shots,” he added.
It was shortly after that the U.S. servicemen charged the gunman, along with their friend, student Anthony Sadler, who said the attacker “didn’t stand a chance.”
“He didn’t say anything. He was just telling us to give back his gun: ‘Give me back my gun! Give me back my gun!'” said Sadler in the BFMTV interview.
The trio were joined by 62-year-old British consultant Chris Norman, who helped subdue the man.
“I was sitting at the front of the carriage,” said Norman in the same interview.
“I came in at the end of it all and I guess just helped to get the guy under control. We ended up by tying him up.
“During the process, the guy actually pulled out a cutter and started cutting Spencer. He cut Spencer behind the neck. He nearly cut his thumb off. Spencer held him. We eventually got him under control.”
Mobile phone footage from inside the train and played on several TV stations shows the suspect, a skinny man wearing white trousers and no shirt, flattened on the floor of the train with his hands and feet tied behind his back.
“It could have been a real carnage, no question about that,” said Norman.
Stone then went to help a Franco-American passenger who had been shot in the shoulder during the fight.
“I’m just real proud of my friend that he reacted so quickly and so bravely,” said Sadler.
“Even after being injured [Stone] went to go help the other man who was bleeding also. Without his help, he would have died. The guy was bleeding from his neck profusely.”
The gunman was arrested when the train with 554 passengers aboard stopped at Arras station in northern France about 10 minutes later.
Both Stone and the other injured passenger were taken to hospital, where they are said to be recovering well.
“[Spencer] is in good spirits. He’s in disbelief that it happened,” Sadler told BFMTV.
“I’m just a college student,” he added. “I came to see my friends for my first trip to Europe and we stop a terrorist. It’s kind of crazy.”