In awarding the Legion of Honor to three Americans and a Briton for stopping a terrorist attack by a heavily armed Moroccan on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris, President Francois Hollande offered this insightful statement:
“Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration. Faced with the evil of terrorism, there is good, that of humanity. You are the incarnation of that.”
The Legion of Honor is France’s highest award and was presented Monday to the Americans, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, 23; Alek Skarlatos, 22, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard, and their friend Anthony Sadler, 23; and Chris Norman, 62, a British consultant.
President Hollande did not mince words in describing what the gunman had in mind: “One need only know that Ayoub El Kharzzani was in possession of 300 rounds of ammunition and firearms to understand what we narrowly avoided, a tragedy, a massacre.”
Although El Kharzzani, who is in the custody of French police, denies that he planned to stage a terrorist attack, French authorities have uncovered his ties to Islamic extremist organizations and have accessed his Facebook account that, among other things, reflects his hatred for France. The case is now being treated as an act of terrorism.
According to the New York Times, the three American friends were on a tour of Europe that included stops in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. They had intended to spend last Friday night in Amsterdam but changed their minds and boarded a high-speed Thalys train to Paris. Shortly after the train crossed the Belgian border into France, they heard a shot, saw a gunman with an AK-47 and rushed to stop him.
A French citizen who was the first to tackle El Kharzzani, – he has not wanted to be identified – will receive the honor at a later date, as will Mark Moogalian, 51, a passenger with dual French and American citizenship who struggled with the attacker and suffered a bullet wound. He is being treated in a hospital.
Such heroism should become a rallying cry around the word, especially in countries held hostage by Islamic terrorist organizations and other extremist groups. Every attack thwarted, every leader killed, every battle won is a setback for the purveyors of global terror.
Just over a week before the great train takedown, there was a significant development in the war on terrorism. Unfortunately, it received little publicity in the United States because the national media are preoccupied with the political phenomenon known as Donald Trump, and with China’s economic collapse.
On Aug. 18, the No. 2 leader of the Islamic State militant group was killed in a U.S. military airstrike in Iraq. Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali was traveling in a vehicle near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when the attack occurred.
Al-Hayali was the senior deputy to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and was the primary coordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria.
Ned Price, National Security Council spokesman, characterized al-Hayali’s death as a blow to Islamic State operations because his influence spanned finance, media, operations and logistics for the group.
Also killed in the airstrike was an Islamic State media operative known as Abu Abdullah. IS has become proficient at using all forms of communication, especially the Internet, to spread its message of death and destruction.
Whether the killings of al-Hayali and Abdullah are a blow to the Islamic extremist group is open to debate. The U.S. and its coalition partners have successfully targeted other prominent militants in their effort to destroy IS, but the group continues to make inroads both in Iraq and Syria.
More significantly, Islamic State continues to attract the attention of Muslims around the world and to use the Internet in its recruitment of fighters, especially from the West.
The U.S. and its allies should keep up the attacks on IS, but as French President Hollande put it, faced with the “evil of terrorism,” people of goodwill must also do their part.