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Train terror attack hero Chris Norman receives top French bravery honour

Published 24/08/2015

Chris Norman speaks to the media at the police headquarters in Arras (AP)
Chris Norman speaks to the media at the police headquarters in Arras (AP)

A British grandfather who helped subdue a gunman armed with an AK-47 on a train from Amsterdam to Paris has been presented with France's top honour for bravery.

IT expert Chris Norman received the Legion d'Honneur from French president Francois Hollande alongside three Americans who fought suspected Morrocan jihadist Ayoub El-Khazzani, 26, on Friday.

Mr Hollande said the men showed "that faced with terror, we have the power to resist", adding, "you also gave a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope".

Mr Norman smiled as Mr Hollande pinned the honour to his chest, before kissing the president on both cheeks.

US Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and Sacramento State University student Anthony Sadler, who stopped the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his chest, were also made chevaliers, or knights, of the Legion during the ceremony.

Mr Hollande said the two Americans who first tackled the gunman were soldiers, "but on Friday you were simply passengers. You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men."

He told the four men the entire world admired their courage and "spirit of solidarity", adding they "must be an example for all, and a source of inspiration".

The alleged gunman, identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, is being questioned by French counter-terrorism police outside Paris.

At a press conference at the US Embassy in Paris on Sunday, Mr Stone said he just wanted to "survive and for my friends and everyone else on the train to make it".

He praised French medical staff and said an unknown French man, who first came across the gunman near a toilet, on the 554-passenger train "started the struggle at first, I think he deserves a lot of credit".

Mr Stone said: "I turned around and he (the gunman) appeared to have what looked like a AK-47.

"It looked like it was jammed or wasn't working and he was trying to discharge the weapon. Alek hit me on the shoulder and said, 'let's go'.

"We ran down, tackled him and hit the ground. Alek tackled him and grabbed the gun out of his hand while I put him in a chokehold. It seemed like he kept on pulling more weapons - left and right.

"He pulled out a handgun. Alek took that. He took out a box cutter and was jabbing at me with that. We let go and all three of us started punching him while he was in the middle of us.

"I was able to grab him again and choke him unconscious while Alek was hitting him in the head with the pistol or rifle."

Mr Norman said he helped the three Americans overpower the gunman because he thought he was "probably going to die anyway".

Mr Skarlatos also thanked Mr Norman for helping to tie the gunman up after he had been overpowered.

French police were reportedly warned more than a year ago about El-Khazzani's radical views.

Spanish law enforcement told their French counterparts in March 2014 that El-Khazzani had a "relationship with radical Islam", the Spanish El Pais newspaper reported.

It also claimed the 26-year-old Moroccan, believed to have visited Syria last year, had been included on a European anti-extremism police database as far back as 2012.

Officials told the Associated Press that El-Khazzani was on the radar of authorities in France, Belgium and Spain.

The Legion d'Honneur was created under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and roughly one million people have received it over the years.

Speaking outside the ceremony, Mr Norman said he was "amazed" by the honour, and did not know whether he deserved it.

He told the BBC: "I'm just amazed and I really appreciate the honour that I have been given and being given this recognition for what we did, but I really do not know whether I deserve it.

"I think what I would like to do is to try to really do honour to what has been given to me."

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