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Americans Who Stopped A Gunman From Attacking A Train Speak Out

The three men from California are childhood friends, and two of them are members of the U.S. military. Belgium's prime minister described the shooting on Friday as a terrorist attack.

Last updated on August 23, 2015, at 3:27 p.m. ET

Posted on August 21, 2015, at 7:51 p.m. ET

Francois Mori / AP

Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos on Sunday with U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley.

The three American men who helped foil a shooting attack on a Paris-bound train Friday have spoken publicly of their dramatic acts of heroism in a joint press conference.

Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone appeared together Sunday to talk about how they subdued a gunman who was armed with a handgun and an automatic rifle. A British man, Chris Norman, and an unidentified French man also helped to stop the suspect.

Both Stone and Skarlatos are members of the U.S. military, while Sadler is a college student. The three are childhood friends who grew up together in Sacramento, California.

Skarlatos, a 22-year-old soldier in the Oregon Army National Guard, said that he didn't actually rely on his military training until after the gunman was on the ground.

“In the beginning, it was mostly gut instinct," he said.

After the Frenchman first encountered the gunman, Sadler said that his two friends were approached the attacker and Sadler then immediately jumped to their aid.

"The reason I got up was I couldn’t let my friends do it alone," he told reporters.

More than 550 passengers were reportedly on board the high-speed train, which was headed from Amsterdam to Paris.

Sadler told reporters at an earlier press conference that the ordeal began after they "heard a gunshot, and we heard glass breaking behind us, and saw a train employee sprint past us down the aisle." The three Americans then saw a gunman with an automatic rifle.

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

The men eventually tied up the gunman with help from another passenger.

"The gunman never said a word," he added.

Francois Mori / AP

Stone, who appeared with his arm in a sling at the press conference due to injuries he suffered in the fight, said that the gunman seemed determined to carry out his goal.

“It seemed like he was ready to fight to the end so so were we," the U.S. Airman said.

Stone was released from a French hospital on Saturday afternoon, after being treated for knife wounds to his hand and neck.

He was visited in hospital by Col. Brendan McAloon, the defense attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

One French police official told the Associated Press that the suspect in the attack did not fire the automatic rifle, but injured one man with his handgun and a second person with a blade.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve Cazeneuve commended their efforts as "particularly courageous" and said they prevented what could have been a much worse outcome.

"Without them we could have faced a terrible tragedy," he said.

A White House official said President Obama was briefed on the train attack and expressed his "profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including U.S. service members who selflessly subdued the attacker."

View this video on YouTube

Video captured immediately after the attack showed the gunman subdued on the train.

The President phoned the three Americans Friday night to commend them on their actions, White House officials said. Secretary of State John Kerry also said he is "incredibly proud" of the Americans' actions.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter released a statement Saturday, offering his thoughts and prayers for those injured in the attack, and thanking the three Americans. Carter said Stone and Skarlatos were "two reasons why -- on duty and off -- ours is the finest fighting force the world has ever known."

French President François Hollande spoke by phone with the Americans and French citizens involved in the incident. He also announced he would formally receive them at the Élysée palace to convey the gratitude of France.

There have been widespread calls for the men to be awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest civilian honor. Agence France-Presse reported Sunday that Hollande would bestow the award on the men in a ceremony on Monday.

Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Chris Norman, a British man living in France (L-R), pose with medals they received after the ordeal for their bravery in Arras, France.

An unnamed official told the Associated Press the attacker was Ayoub El Khazani. Other officials provided same name to other news outlets.

Cazeneuve said Spanish authorities alerted French intelligence of the man in February 2014 "due to his involvement in radical Islamist movements," prompting the man to be put on a terrorism watch list. Investigators used fingerprints to confirm that the man who was put on the terrorism watch list in 2014 was the same as the gunman Friday, the AP reported.

A Spanish anti-terror official told the AP Khazani had once lived in Spain before moving to France and then traveling at one point to war-torn Syria.

Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel referred to the violent incident as a terror attack, although it was not immediately clear why or what the motivation of the suspect was. Officials from France's anti-terror police unit were leading the investigation into the shooting.

Sadler expressed skepticism at reports that the suspect had claimed he had only planned to rob the train, saying "it doesn’t take eight magazines to rob a train."

He said that if there was one lesson he hopes people will learn from this story, it is that you should never hide or sit back in the face of a potential terror attack.

“In times of terror like that please just do something, don’t stand back and watch," he said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.