The three Americans hailed as heroes for tackling a man carrying an AK-47 on a Paris-bound train and stopping the gunman from killing those onboard spoke publicly of the encounter for the first time Sunday at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, 23, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, 22, from Roseburg, Ore., and their friend, Anthony Sadler, 23, recounted how they overpowered the gunman, a suspected Islamic militant, as the train sped through Belgium Friday.
“He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end,” said Stone. “So were we.”
Stone said he awakened from a deep sleep before springing into action and subduing the attacker.
One of his friends "just hit me on the shoulder and said 'Let's go,'" before moving in to tackle the gunman.
He said he turned around and saw a man holding an assault rifle and that it "looked like it was jammed and it wasn't working."
In his first remarks since Friday's attack on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train, Stone said he and his friends wrestled the gunman to the ground and choked him unconscious.
Stone said he was still trying to comprehend what happened.
"It feels very unreal,” he said. “It feels like a dream."
The three Americans have been friends since childhood. Stone said he trusted his friends completely to help him take down the gunman.
“If it wasn’t for them, I would be dead,” he said.
Stone, who was wearing a sling on his left arm, was wounded in the attack and said he will receive further medical treatment in Germany.
Stone, who said he was stabbed in the neck and sliced on his hand, said the attacker kept pulling out weapons from his bag.
The airman said his thumb was reattached during his hospital stay in Lille. He thanked the French doctors, police officers and others.
Skarlatos said they acted instinctively when they saw the man enter the train car with the gun.
“We kind of acted,” he said. “There wasn’t much thinking.”
U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley praised the three Americans, calling them heroes.
"We often use the word hero and, in this case, I know that word has never been more appropriate," Hartley said. "They are truly heroes. When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran into the line of fire, saying `Let's go.' Those words changed the fate of many."
The press conference came a day after a French official close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, identified the attacker to The Associated Press as Ayoub el-Khazzani, 26, who was known to authorities in France, Belgium and Spain.
Officials didn’t disclose a possible motive for the Friday attack, but Interior Minister Bernard Cazenueve said Spanish authorities had advised French intelligence about the suspect because he belongs to the “radical Islamist movement.”
Authorities say El-Khazzani is an Islamic extremist who spent time in Syria, while his lawyer said he was homeless and trying to rob the train.
El-Khazzani was being questioned by French counter-terrorism police, who on Saturday confirmed through fingerprints their suspicions that he was the same man who had been brought to their attention in February 2014, a French official told The Associated Press.
French authorities said the alleged gunman had lived in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras, frequenting a mosque which is under surveillance there.
He was transferred Saturday morning to anti-terror police headquarters outside Paris, where he could be held for up to 96 hours before being formally charged with a crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.