Heroes honoured for halting train attack

France awards Legion d’honneur as father denies gunman is terrorist.

The father of a suspected Islamist militant gunman overpowered by passengers on a high-speed train in France was quoted as saying he could not believe his son was a terrorist.

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo spoke to Mohammed el Khazzani, father of Ayoub el Khazzani who was arrested after attacking passengers on the train on Friday, at his home in Algeciras, southern Spain.

“I wasn’t on the train, but I don’t think he was capable of doing something like that,” Khazzani told El Mundo, speaking to the Spanish newspaper in Arabic.

“They are saying Ayoub is a terrorist but I simply can’t believe it,” said Khazzani, 64, a scrap merchant who lives in the poor El Saladillo district of Algeciras with his wife and some of his six children.

“Why would he want to kill anyone? It makes no sense,” he said of his son, who lived with him in Algeciras until he left for France in 2014.

“The only terrorism he is guilty of is terrorism for bread, he doesn’t have enough money to feed himself properly,” he said.

French president Francois Hollande awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion d’honneur, to three US citizens and a Briton who helped overpower the heavily armed man on the Amsterdam to Paris train.

The suspect’s lawyer said the gunman intended to rob people on board the train because he was hungry.

Khazzani said he knew he would never see his 26-year-old son again. “It is as if he were dead, now he will go to prison for a long time.”

Describing his son as a “good kid” who liked to fish and play soccer, he said he was very religious and did not smoke or drink alcohol.

El Mundo said Ayoub el Khazzani left Algeciras in 2014 when the Spanish police were “hard on his heels” because they suspected him of jihadist sympathies.

Sources told Reuters Ayoub el Khazzani was arrested at least once for drug trafficking in Spain and some Spanish newspapers said he may have been radicalised while in prison.

His father denied he had ever possessed drugs.

The Legion d’honneur award came a day after it was revealed that one of the Americans, Spencer Stone, also appeared to have saved the life of a passenger.

The three US heroes have admitted they were in the right carriage at the right time only because “the WiFi wasn’t so good” elsewhere on the train.

“Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that’s humanity. You are the incarnation of that,” Hollande told the four men.

Stone, a 23-year-old airman traveling with two friends on the train from Amsterdam to Paris , told reporters how he plugged the blood-spurting wound of another passenger with his fingers after himself being injured in the attack.

“I went over, saw that he was squirting blood out of the left or right side of his neck,” Stone, with a cut above his right eye and his left arm in a sling to protect his injured hand, said at a press conference alongside his friends, student Anthony Sadler, also 23, and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, 22.

“And I was going to use my shirt at first, but I realised that wasn’t going to work, so I just stuck two of my fingers in the hole, found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped.”

Stone held that position until paramedics arrived, he said.

The man whom Stone helped remains hospitalised. US ambassador to France Jane Hartley said at the news conference that he was “doing pretty well.”

Chris Norman, a 62-year-old British consultant who lives in France, was also decorated by Hollande.

Stone said another man, who is French and whose name has not been disclosed, “deserves a lot of the credit” because he was the first one to try to stop the gunman.

The trio said they had no choice but to react when they saw the gunman cocking his assault rifle. Stone said he choked him while Skarlatos hit him on the head with one of his firearms.

Stone’s and Skarlatos’ military training kicked in while they provided first aid and searched the train to make sure there were no other gunmen, they said.

They said the gunman was apparently untrained in firearms and that he could have used all his firepower to devastating effect if he had known more about weapons.

Skarlatos disputed a statement the gunman made, through a lawyer, that he just wanted to rob the train because he was hungry.

“It doesn’t take eight magazines to rob a train,” Skarlatos said. “His intentions seemed pretty clear.”


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