Motive unknown in train attack stopped by U.S. servicemen

Thalys attack
One of the injured in a shooting on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris. Aug. 21, 2015 (photo: Christina Cathleen Coons / Twitter / @FreedomFilmLLC)One of the injured in a shooting on a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris. Aug. 21, 2015 (photo: Christina Cathleen Coons / Twitter / @FreedomFilmLLC)

Update, 9:55 a.m., 22 August 2015: an allegation published in Spanish newspaper El Pais claiming the attacker holds radical Islamic beliefs was added to this article.

French authorities were working feverishly Saturday morning to determine why a 26-year-old Moroccan man carrying a handgun and a Kalashnikov rifle opened fire on a train headed from Amsterdam to Paris. Officials called three Americans and a British man heroes for their stopping the attack shortly after it started Friday evening.

One person was shot, and it is still unclear if that person was the target of the incident. One of the Americans, an Air Force serviceman, was stabbed. French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade reportedly hurt his hand when he broke a glass seal to sound an emergency alarm.

A Kalashnikov rifle was found at the scene, though some reports say the gunshot victim was struck with handgun fire.

The Air Force serviceman, Spencer Stone, was assisted by his childhood friends, Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsman from Oregon, and Anthony Sadler, a fourth-year student at Sacramento State University. They were travelling on the Thalys train when they heard the sounds of gunshots and shattering glass.

A train conductor ran down the aisle of their car, followed by the gunman, armed with the rifle, Sadler told the AP newswire.

“As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, `Spencer, go!' And Spencer runs down the aisle,” Sadler told the wire service. “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”

As Stone turned to aid a passenger bleeding from his throat, a fourth passenger, reportedly British, assisted in tying up the attacker.

French officials were quick to refer to the incident as a terrorist attack, though police and a French counterterrorism unit did not commit to calling terrorism a motive.

Spanish newspaper El País reported that the 26-year-old is Ayoub El Kahzzani, known to Spanish investigators for holding radical Islamic beliefs. He lived in Spain last year before moving to France, and was reportedly in Syria in recent years, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, an ongoing war between rival gangs of Moroccan decent has plagued the Amsterdam metropolitan area for nearly three years, many of which involved either handgun use at point-blank range or automatic rifles shot from short distances.

Stone is stationed in the Azores, according to the AP, while the 22-year-old Skarlatos just finished a deployment in Afghanistan.

“Alek and Spencer, they're big, brave, strong guys and they decided they were going to tackle him. And they did,” Skarlatos step-mother, Karen Skarlatos, told the AP. “Spencer got a couple good slices on him. But they were able to subdue him while the train was still moving.”