My thanks to one of my readers Pastor Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis for their excellent news site, Godreports.

From it I learned that the three Americans who bravely subdued Ayoub El Khazzani on August 21, 2015 are practising Christians and attended the same Christian school.

Heroes and believers

Mark Ellis’s article reveals (emphases mine):

The families of the three Americans who foiled a terror attack on a Paris-bound train Friday said their heroism was directly related to their sturdy Christian faith.

“They’re all Christians, they’re all very religious.” Peter Skarlatos, the brother of Alek Skarlatos told the Sacramento Bee.

Anthony Sadler’s father is a Baptist minister in Sacramento. He, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone have all been friends since childhood and attended California’s Freedom Christian School together. They also enjoyed playing military games in their free time.

Sadler is attending university. Stone is an Airman First Class. Skarlatos is in the Oregon National Guard.

The drama took place on a high-speed train going from Amsterdam to Paris. In a BBC interview, Sadler said:

I came to see my friends on my first trip in Europe, and we stopped a terrorist. Kinda crazy.

His father, the Revd Anthony Sadler said he is “still wrapping his head around” events.

Ayoub El Khazzani boarded the train in Brussels, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger automatic pistol, a box-cutter, and multiple rounds of ammunition. He opened fire, injuring a passenger.

A Briton, 62-year-old Chris Norman, a management consultant who lives in France, told The Telegraph that he could hear conversation nearby:

I heard an American saying ‘go get him’, then someone else saying, ‘no you don’t do that’. Then I realised the only way to survive was go for him.

It should be noted that, during this time, train staff had sequestered themselves elsewhere, which came in for heated debate on French talk radio station RMC the following Monday. The BBC article states:

The 554 passengers included French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, the star of Betty Blue and Nikita, who was lightly wounded breaking glass to sound the alarm.

In an interview with Paris Match magazine, Mr Anglade said train staff entered a private cabin and locked it when they heard gunshots, leaving the passengers alone.

“I thought it was the end, that we were going to die, that he was going to kill us all,” he said.

“I really could see us all dying because we were all prisoners in that train, it would have been impossible to escape from that nightmare.”

Skarlatos told Sky News:

“I just looked at Spencer and said, ‘Let’s go!’,” said Mr Skarlatos from his hotel in Arras, northern France.

Spencer got to the guy first, grabbed the guy by the neck and I grabbed the handgun, got the handgun away from the guy and threw it.

Then I grabbed the AK (assault rifle), which was at his feet, and started muzzle thumping him in the head with it.

Mr Stone was cut by the attacker behind his neck and his thumb was nearly sliced off as the man was wrestled to the ground by the Americans.

Mr Sadler, who also helped to subdue the suspect, said: “The gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times.” He added the attacker “never said a word”.

Mr Stone needed surgery on his badly wounded hand, but his friends said he was “doing fine”. A total of three people were injured in the attack. Two are still in hospital.

The BBC reported that Stone, despite his own injuries, went to help the first injured passenger:

“I’m really proud of my friend that he just reacted so quickly and so bravely,” Anthony Sadler said.

“He was really the first one over there. Even after being injured himself, he went to go help the other man who was bleeding also. Without his help, he would have died.

That man was bleeding from his neck profusely.”

Chris Norman, husband and grandfather, helped the three Americans subdue the attacker. He told The Telegraph:

My thought was I am going to die anyway so let’s go. I’d rather die being active than sitting in the corner being shot. Once you start moving, you’re not afraid any more.

Godreports reveals the providential nature of the rescue:

the young men started their trip on a different train car, then switched 30 minutes later to the same car where the gunman opened fire.

Also:

El Khazzani drew his pistol and put it to Airman Stone’s head and pulled the trigger twice.

But it clicked twice and didn’t go off,” Airman Stone’s mother, Joyce Eskel, said later, according to news reports.

Pastor Sadler said:

he believes his son and his friends were used by God to disrupt what could have been an awful tragedy.

“We believe God’s providential will worked its way out,” he said. “I’m just thankful they were there and got things done.”

Pastor Sadler said his son has a “great love for his friends. There’s no way he would stand on the sidelines and watch them get attacked,” Sadler Sr. said. “I’m thanking God they were not seriously injured.”

A grateful President François Hollande presented the three Americans with Legion of Honor medals in Paris on Monday, August 24.

Ayoub El Khazzani — criminal

France’s BFM-TV has an article which provides background on El Khazzani based on statements from Paris’s prosecutor François Molins and newspaper reports. A summary follows.

El Khazzani was born in 1989 in Morocco. Upon his arrest in Arras after his train attack, he told investigators that he has two brothers and two sisters. His parents are still alive, but a British newspaper said El Khazzani’s father had not heard from his son for at least a year.

In 2007, he moved to Spain. He lived in Madrid for a time then moved to Algeciras where he lived until 2014. El Pais newspaper says that during this time he was arrested three times for drugs offences, two in Madrid and one on the island of Ceuta, located between Spain and Morocco. He served a prison term for one of these offences. Otherwise, he worked at temporary jobs and was involved in petty crime.

He began listening to speeches from radical Islamists in mosques in Andalucia. By 2012, Spanish police declared him ‘potentially dangerous’ and shared the information with forces securing the borders of Schengen countries.

By 2014, Spain’s antiterrorist police notified their French colleagues that El Khazzani had likely moved somewhere in France. They also said that he went to Syria and then returned to France. French authorities did not confirm this information.

In 2014, the French responded by opening an ‘S’ (security) file on El Khazzani. Then they lost track of him until May 10, 2015, when he was traced in Berlin before travelling to Istanbul. Ten days later, Spanish investigators told the French he had moved to Belgium.

From there, the trail went cold until he boarded the Thalys train on August 21.

El Khazzani told investigators in Arras that he had spent the previous six months travelling in Belgium, Germany, Austria, France and Andorra.

His father told a British newspaper he was sure his son worked for a month in France sometime during Spring 2014.

Belgian investigators are examining links El Khazzani might have had with radical Islamists in the city of Verviers.

As for the train attack, El Khazzani told police he was broke and needed money. He was going to hold up train passengers, nothing more.

The BFM-TV article concludes that his statement was a:

Fantasist version. The young Americans who subdued him had no doubt about his terrorist intentions.

Thank goodness they showed the bravery they did.

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