France President François Hollande on Monday awarded the Legion of Honour, the country's highest award, to three Americans and a Briton for their role in stopping a gunman on a high-speed train traveling to Paris from Amsterdam Friday.
The three Americans - airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, 23; Alek Skarlatos, 22, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard; and their friend Anthony Sadler, 23 - received the honor in the gilded halls of the Élysée Palace, where they were joined by Chris Norman, 62, a British consultant.
“One need only know that Ayoub El Khazzani was in possession of 300 rounds of ammunition and firearms to understand what we narrowly avoided, a tragedy, a massacre,” Hollande said at the ceremony, referring to the suspect in the attack, a Moroccan who is in police custody and denies that he had planned to stage a terrorist attack.
“Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration,” Hollande added. “Faced with the evil of terrorism, there is a good, that of humanity. You are the incarnation of that.”
Shortly after the train crossed the Belgian border into France, the three Americans heard a shot, saw a gunman with an AK-47 and rushed to stop him.
A French citizen who was the first to tackle Khazzani but who has declined to be identified will receive the honour at a later date, as will Mark Moogalian, 51, who is recovering from a bullet wound.
The courageous responses to the presence of a gunman drew attention and praise from around the world, especially in France, where many quickly encouraged Hollande to award the men the Legion of Honour, which was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward “outstanding merit.”