PARIS — The struggle was brief, bloody and chaotic.
The high-speed train was zipping from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday when a shirtless man emerged from the bathroom — a rifle slung over his shoulder, witnesses said.
A French passenger and three Americans — a civilian, an Air Force member and a National Guard member — jumped into action. They quickly tackled him, possibly averting a massacre aboard the train.
By the time the suspect was subdued, three people had nonlife-threatening injuries, said Anthony Blondeau, a spokesman for Arras city in northern France, where the train pulled up after the incident and the suspect was arrested. One of the Americans was among the injured.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Saturday in Paris that the Frenchman was the first to intervene, followed quickly by the Americans.
The identity of the suspect is not yet fully established, but he could be a man of Moroccan origin, who lived in Spain in 2014 and Belgium in 2015 and had ties to radical Islam, according to Cazeneuve.
The suspected attacker was armed with a Kalashnikov assault weapon, nine chargers, a Luger automatic pistol, a 9mm charger and a box cutter, the minister said.
A “French passenger tried courageously to overpower him before the suspect fired several shots, then two American passengers intervened and managed to overpower the shooter, immobilized him on the ground and put aside his weaponry,” Cazeneuve said.
‘My friend yells, ‘Get him!’
The three American men were traveling together when they heard shattering glass and people running, said Peter Skarlatos, the brother of Alek Skarlatos, one of the men who tackled the suspect.
They saw the gunman and decided to confront him, he said.
“My friend Alek Skarlatos yells, ‘Get him!,’ so my friend Spencer Stone immediately gets up to charge the guy, followed by Alek, then myself,” said Anthony Sadler, the civilian among the three. Stone is an Air Force member while Skarlatos is in the National Guard.
“The three of us beat up the guy,” Sadler said. “In the process, Spencer gets slashed multiple times by the box cutter, and Alek takes the AK away.”
Skarlatos seized the rifle and hit the suspect in the head with the muzzle.
“I begin to tie him up with help from Chris, another passenger,” Sadler said. “I notice a man had his throat cut at which (time) Spencer begins to apply pressure to the neck wound before he bled out.”
Spencer had injuries in the head and neck, and almost had his thumb cut off, according to Peter Skarlatos.
Stone and Sadler live in Sacramento, California, while Skarlatos is from Roseburg, Oregon.
Skarlatos had joined his friends on a European vacation after returning from Afghanistan.
A British man, Chris Norman, was in the same train carriage and helped to restrain the attacker after Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos leaped to tackle him.
Norman told a news conference he felt “relief that nobody actually got killed,” adding there was no question that “it could have been a real carnage.”
Official: Suspect had radical views
The train was rerouted to Arras, 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Paris, where the suspect was taken into custody.
One of the Americans sustained injuries from the box cutter and another passenger, who is a dual French-American citizen, sustained a gunshot wound as he was in his seat on board the train, Cazeneuve said.
The two injured men are hospitalized in Arras and Lille and their lives are not in danger, he said.
The third person injured was French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, who has a light hand injury, said Blondeau, the spokesman for Arras.
Cazeneuve said the anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office in Paris was investigating and that Belgian authorities have also opened their own investigation.
The suspect has been transferred from the Arras police station to the anti-terrorist police unit and France’s external intelligence agency, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, Cazeneuve said.
The man is currently being interrogated as part of a detention that can last up to 96 hours, he said.
The minister urged caution about the suspect’s identity, “which is not yet fully established with certainty at this hour.”
If the identity claimed by the suspect is confirmed, “it would correspond to that of an individual of Moroccan nationality, who is 26 years old, flagged by Spanish authorities to French intelligence services in February 2014, due to his ties to the radical Islamist movement,” Cazeneuve said.
A European counterterrorism official earlier told CNN that the suspect is a Moroccan national and was on the radar screen of European counterterrorism agencies for his radical jihadist views.
A second security source said French intelligence knew the suspect. It appeared he was sympathetic to ISIS, the official said, but a full determination on his motive and loyalties had yet to be reached.
The train attack has not officially been classified as an act of terrorism, although the senior European counterterrorism official indicated it could be.
‘Their heroic actions … prevented a far worse tragedy’
French President Fancois Hollande will receive the American and French men who intervened at the Elysee palace on Saturday and express “France’s gratitude” to them, his office said via Twitter.
The French president also spoke by phone with them and “thanked them for their exceptional courage and their efficiency to prevent a tragedy,” according to a statement from his office.
France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls similarly voiced his gratitude via Twitter to those who intervened to stop the attack, as well as his support for the victims.
A White House official applauded the Americans involved.
“The President expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including U.S. service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker,” the official said.
“While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy. We will remain in close contact with French authorities as the investigation proceeds.”
A Pentagon spokesman said it is aware of the incident and confirmed that one U.S. military member was injured.
France has been the site of several lone-wolf terror attacks this year, including the killing of 17 people in Paris in attacks on a satiric magazine and a kosher store.
The trip between Paris and Amsterdam takes three hours and 16 minutes on the high-speed train and passes through Belgium.