Two U.S. soldiers were wounded after they confronted a gunman on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris, potentially averting a massacre, France’s interior minister said.
The gunman, whose identity hasn’t been disclosed, told French police he’s not a terrorist, BFM TV reported, without saying where it got the information. He carried weapons -- guns, blades and a Kalashnikov rifle -- to commit a robbery and ransom train passengers, the television channel said. Anti-terrorism experts are investigating the attack, French President Francois Hollande said in a statement Friday.
The two soldiers, and other passengers, helped capture the suspect after they heard the sound of a gun being loaded in a toilet on the train, according to reports by media including Agence France Presse. The pair, who wore civilian clothes, started monitoring the gunman after passengers noticed his behavior was erratic, media reports said.
The soldiers “showed great bravery in extremely difficult circumstances,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said at a briefing in Arras after the attack, offering “all our recognition and our admiration for the sang-froid they displayed, without which we may have faced a terrible drama.”
President Barack Obama praised the passengers who subdued the gunman, according to a White House statement. U.S. officials will stay in touch with French authorities about the investigation.
The attacker told French police he’d found the weapons in a park in Brussels, according to BFM TV. He boarded the train in the Belgian capital, newspaper La Voix du Nord said.
The attack took place at about 5:45 p.m. local time, Cazeneuve said. It occurred before the train crossed from Belgium into France, according to a statement from Hollande’s office. The French president and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel have discussed the incident and vowed to cooperate closely in the investigation.
The gunman lived in Spain and is a follower of radical Islam, national news radio station France Info reported, without saying how it got the information. He’d traveled to Syria, according to El Pais.
Hollande’s office had said that three people were injured in the attack. AFP, citing a spokesman for French rail operator SNCF, said a French passenger, film actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, was lightly injured as he sought to activate an alarm on the train, but was not wounded by the attacker.
SNCF officials didn’t return calls seeking comment.
France suffered at least three high-profile terrorist attacks earlier this year.
In January, 17 people were killed in two attacks, one on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and another, a day later, at a kosher grocery in Paris. The slaughters by a radicalized trio catapulted France’s capital onto the front pages of newspapers around the world.
The French government mobilized 10,000 soldiers to guard vulnerable sites around the country after those attacks.
On June 26, four people were arrested in connection with a terror attack earlier in the month on an Air Products & Chemicals Inc. gas plant near Lyon in southeastern France, in which one person was decapitated and two were injured.
French authorities also foiled five other attacks this year, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in April. Those included one on April 19, on a Paris church, which Valls said was “almost certainly” commissioned from Syria.