On a train in northern France, a young Moroccan stepped out of a bathroom with an AK-47 (or similar weapon) and opened fire. Several people were wounded, but happily three [later reports say two] unarmed U.S. Marines were nearby and they disabled and captured the assailant:
French authorities are understandably silent about the gunman’s motive, but if the Daily Mail can be believed, he is a 26-year-old Moroccan “who was known to security services.” The investigation is being led by a special anti-terror unit of the French police. In addition to a rifle, the gunman had 200 rounds of ammunition and a knife in his possession.
In the photo below, the attacker is being held on a railway platform at Arras, waiting for police to arrive:
But for the three Marines–assuming the Daily Mail’s account is right–this could have been a major, and tragic, news story.
UPDATE: The Telegraph has running updates. Information is still fragmentary, but the Telegraph reports that the Marines “heard what appeared to be the sound of a gun being loaded coming from the toilets on the train;” hence their fast action.
MORE: As always, early reports are subject to revision. More recent stories generally say there were two Marines, at least one of whom was wounded and may be in critical condition. A guard at the Arras railroad station told the Telegraph:
I saw the two wounded men being taken off the train by firemen. One had a wound in the neck and the other in the hand. I saw the gunmen and I think he had five Kalashnikov magazines so he could recharge. His rifle had a short handle so it was more compact and he also had a handgun and knives. It could have been carnage if not for the Americans.
Patrick Ropert, a spokesman for SNCF (the railroad), said:
Above all we evidently must salute the level-headedness and the determination of the two American passengers who intervened aboard the Thalys today.
Prayers as well as thanks are in order for the wounded Marine or Marines.
Information is beginning to come out about the would-be terrorist:
Spanish reports said the attacker’s name is Ayoub el-Qahzzani, a 26-year-old Moroccan who was known to secret services.
El País reported that Spanish anti-terrorist sources said that he “had residency” in Spain for a year until 2014, when he moved to France. The same sources said he travelled to Syria and returned to France soon after.
So he may have been one of those who went to Syria to fight with ISIS, received training there and returned to Europe.
MORE: This account in the Telegraph sounds as though the critically injured passenger was not one of the Marines:
Witnesses have spoken of their horror as train passengers were shot in their seats when a terrorist opened fire on a train carrying hundreds of people before he was overpowered by two US marines.
On Friday night witnesses told The Telegraph they watched on terrified as one man was shot in the neck and left fighting for his life as another injured man tried to save him.
Engineer Laurent Duquesne, 43, was travelling in the next compartment when one victim’s wife came running in sobbing asking for help.
“She spoke French and asked if there was a doctor aboard the train and why it wasn’t stopping,” he said.
MORE: The Daily Mail says the critically injured passenger was one of the Marines:
A US Marine is in critical condition after tackling a Kalashnikov-wielding gunman on a train between Amsterdam and Paris, according to French media reports.
The serviceman, who has not been named, was one of two Americans on leave – possibly embassy guards – who tackled the 26-year-old Moroccan national to the ground after hearing him load up a gun in the toilet.
In the scuffle, one of the Marines was shot and is now in a critical condition, France Info reports. He was airlifted to CHR hospital in Lille, France. The other Marine was stabbed, and has been taken to the central hospital of Arras with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Addressing reporters at the station in Arras, northern France, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve praised their bravery.
‘I would like to express our gratitude to and admiration for these two American passengers,’ said Cazeneuve.
‘Thanks to the calm composure of the two American passengers, we have avoided a tragedy. Without them we would have faced a terrible drama.’
‘They were particularly courageous and showed extreme bravery in extremely difficult circumstances.’
It’s a proud day to be an American. It’s a really proud day to be a Marine.
MORE: The Associated Press’s coverage is oddly subdued compared with what the European press is writing. Its headline: “France: 2 Americans subdue gunman on high-speed train.” Compare that with the current Daily Mail headline:
Unarmed hero US marine took bullet in the neck as he and colleague tackled euro-train gunman armed with AK47: American duo saved hundreds when they jumped on Moroccan terrorist after he opened fire on terrified passengers
I am still not sure who exactly got a bullet in the neck, and the AP doesn’t tell us either. Not only that, the AP never mentions that the Americans were Marines:
A gunman opened fire on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding two people before two American passengers subdued him, officials said.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking in Arras in northern France where the suspected was detained, said one of the Americans was hospitalized with serious wounds. Their names were not immediately released.
Philippe Lorthiois, an official with the Alliance police union, said on i-Tele that the two Americans were soldiers. In Washington, the Pentagon said it “can only confirm that one U.S. military member was injured in the incident. The injury is not life-threatening.”
That is very good news indeed. But the AP’s low-energy report seems oddly inappropriate.