The three American heroes who saved a French train full of from almost certain death at the hands of an attacker armed with an AK-47 were covered in international glory Sunday as they spoke out for the first time since thwarting the assault.
National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and their friend Anthony Sadler, who is not in the military, appeared at news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Paris to talk about Friday’s attack and the moment the gunman, 24-year-old Ayoub El Khazzani, entered their train car, according to ABC News.
Sadler said they were faced with two choices at that moment.
“At that time he was cocking the AK-47,” he said. “It was either do something or die.”
“In times of crisis … do something,” Sadler added. “Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything,” ABC News reported.
Stone, 23, of Carmichael, California, said the sound woke him up from “a deep sleep,” and when he turned and saw the gunman, his first thought was about “survival, to survive and for everyone on the train to make it.”
All three friends credited each other with helping stop the gunman.
“The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up,” Sadler added.
“I trust both my friends very much,” Stone said. “If it wasn’t for them I would have been dead.”
Stone said he put the attacker in a chokehold, but the gunman kept pulling more weapons. The attacker started jabbing at Stone with a box cutter and all three friends began punching and hitting him to subdue him.
“He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end,” Stone said. “So were we.”
Stone said he choked the attacker unconscious while Skarlatos hit him in the head.
Meanwhile, the motivation of the attacker remained open to questions Sunday.
Although the man was suspected of traveling to Syria and was known to authorities in France, Belgium and Spain for his ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” his lawyer claimed he was only trying to rob the train’s passengers, not commit an act of terrorism, according to USA Today.
USA Today reported:
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that Spanish authorities advised French intelligence about the suspect in February 2014 “because of his connections to the radical Islamist movement.”
Officials, who said El-Khazzani was armed with a Kalashnikov, nine magazines, a pistol and a box cutter, did not disclose a possible motive for the attack.
U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley said the three men “demonstrated the very best of America in their selfless actions.”
“We often use the word hero, and in this case it is appropriate,” she said as she introduced them. “They are truly heroes.”
The three are set to meet French President Francois Hollande on Monday at the Elysee Palace.
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