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US serviceman tackled train gunman as he 'wanted to survive'

Published 23/08/2015

US airman Spencer Stone waves as he leaves hospital in Arras, northern France (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
US airman Spencer Stone waves as he leaves hospital in Arras, northern France (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
US airman Spencer Stone who was stabbed in the neck as he disarmed a terrorist with a Kalashnikov on a French passenger train has left hospital (Arras City Hall)

A soldier whose thumb was nearly sliced off as he fought to disarm a gunman who opened fire on a train said he just wanted to "survive and for my friends and everyone else on the train to make it".

US Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone was speaking for the first time since tackling the gunman, named by French officials as Ayoub El-Khazzani , on an Amsterdam-Paris train on Friday.

Mr Stone was joined by friends US National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and Sacramento State University student Anthony Sadler at a press conference at the US Embassy in Paris.

They risked their lives along with British IT expert Chris Norman and a French man who has yet to come forward in tackling El-Khazzani and beating him unconscious.

Mr Stone said that the unknown French man "started the struggle at first, I think he deserves a lot of credit".

The French people, emergency services and medical staff had been "great", Mr Stone, who was sporting a badly-bruised right eye and an arm in a sling, said.

He added: "To the French medical team who reattached my thumb, my tendons and nerves and everything like that, I just wanted to say thank you."

Mr Stone said: "I turned around and he 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 weaons - 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."

Even after he was injured, Mr Stone helped to save the life of a passenger who was squirting blood from his neck after being hit by a bullet.

He said he would have used his shirt but realised that would not have worked, so he "stuck two of his fingers in the hole, found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped".

He added: "I just said 'thank God' and held that position until the paramedics got there."

The injured man is said to be "doing very well," according to Jane Hartley, the US Ambassador to France.

Mr Sadler described the gunman as "shirtless and skinny", and he "never said a word. When he entered the car he was cocking the AK-47, so it was basically do something or die."

He added: "Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything and the gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up."

French police were reportedly warned more than a year ago about the radical views of a gunman disarmed by US and British passengers on a train.

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.

Mr Norman, a married grandfather-of-two, 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.

Among the 554 people on board was French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, star of Betty Blue and Nikita, who was hit by breaking glass as the alarm was sounded.

Ms Hartley also said US President Barack Obama had praised the bravery of the passengers in a personal telephone call to French President Francois Hollande last night.

She said: "These three brave young Americans, along with the French and British passenger, demonstrated remarkable bravery and acted without regard for their own safety in order to subdue a heavily-armed individual who appeared intent on causing mass casualties.

"When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran in to the line of fire saying 'let's go'."

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