Spencer Stone: Heroic airman on France train was napping when gunman attacked

Spencer Stone was stabbed in the neck as he took down a suspected terrorist armed with an AK47, pistol and boxcutter

David Trayner
Sunday 23 August 2015 10:40
Airman Spencer Stone leaves hospital after the ordeal (AFP/Getty)
Airman Spencer Stone leaves hospital after the ordeal (AFP/Getty)

A US airman who has been hailed as a hero after overpowering a gunman on a packed train has left hospital.

Spencer Stone, who was stabbed in the neck and eyebrow and almost lost his thumb tackling Ayoub El-Khazzani, waved to journalists and well-wishers as he left hospital wearing a sling and bandages.

Mr Stone, who has received plaudits from Barak Obama and David Cameron, and invited to the Elysees Palace by Francois Hollande, was the first to react when El-Khazzani burst into the high-speed Amsterdam-to-Paris train waving the assault rifle on Friday.

He dived on El-Khazzani, whose gun had jammed, and wrestled him to the floor.

The 26-year-old Moroccan, who is being questioned by French investigators, slashed Mr Stone in the neck, face and thumb with the boxcutter until Mr Stone, his friends US National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, and British IT consultant Chris Norman, subdued the suspected terrorist.

Video of the aftermath showed Mr Stone ignoring blood pouring from his wounds as he tended to another passenger, who was bleeding from a gunshot wound.

Mr Stone left the central hospital in Lille, France, as it emerged French security services were alerted to the danger El-Khazzani posed 18 months ago.

The airman was whisked away in a black sedan with diplomatic licence plates.

Mr Skarlatos’s father, Emanuel, told American TV channel Katu News that his 22-year-old son and two childhood friends, who were on holiday in Europe, were napping on the train when they were awoken by gunfire.

Mr Sadler said they heard a gunshot and breaking glass behind them then saw a train employee sprint down the aisle followed by a man with an automatic rifle.

Spencer Stone is likely to be welcomed as an 'all-American hero' when he returns to the States

The Californian college student told the Associated Press: “As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, 'Spencer, go!' And Spencer runs down the aisle.

"Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a box cutter and slices Spencer a few times.

“And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.

“He was just telling us to give back his gun: 'Give me back my gun! Give me back my gun!'

“But we just carried on beating him up and immobilised him and that was it.”

Guman Ayoub El-Khazzani

Mr Norman, 62, who lives in France, who has become an unlikely hero of the drama, said: "He had a Kalashnikov, he had a magazine full .... My thought was, OK, probably I'm going to die anyway. So, let's go.

"I'd rather die being active."

US embassy officials from Paris visited Mr Stone in hospital and his family is travelling to France to be with him as he recovers.

A White House spokesman said: “The president expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including US service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker.

“While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy.”

A Number 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister praised the extraordinary courage of the passengers who intervened and helped disarm the gunman, including the British consultant Chris Norman.

"The bravery of Mr Norman and the other passengers helped to prevent a terrible incident.”

Mr Hollande tweeted: “I will I receive @elysee the Americans and French overpowered the aggressor of the Thalys service to express the gratitude of France.”

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