President Barack Obama has hailed the courage of two US marines who tackled a Kalashnikov-wielding gunman on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.
But for their intervention, the White House said, the tragedy would have been far worse.
The two US servicemen, who have not been named, are understood to have wrestled the 26-year old Moroccan gunman to the ground, after hearing him load his weapon in the lavatory.
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One marine was shot and was in a critical condition after being airlifted to a hospital in Lille, northern France.
The other, who was stabbed, was in a serious but non-life threatening condition at a hospital in Arras.
A White House spokesman said Mr Obama had been fully briefed on the attack.
Photo: Getty Images
“The President expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including US. service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker.
“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,” a White House spokesman said
The gunman had opened fire before being overpowered by the marines who were travelling in civilian clothes, the French authorities said.
Witnesses described the aftermath of the confrontation.
“I went into the compartment and saw a man with what seemed to be a bullet wound in the neck, with another man trying to staunch the bleeding. He himself was wounded in the hand, possibly with a knife,” said Laurent Duquesne, 43, an engineer, who was travelling on the train.
“They had tied up the gunmen and he was lying face down on the floor of the compartment with his hands tied behind his back.”
Didier Dobremetz, 58, a security officer at Arras station, added: “I saw the two wounded men being taken off the train by firemen.
“One had a wound in the neck and the other in the hand. I saw the gunmen and I think he had five Kalashnikov magazines so he could recharge. His rifle had a short handle so it was more compact and he also had a handgun and knives.
“It could have been carnage if not for the Americans. I saw the gunmen, tied up, lying on the platform. He had blood on his face but didn’t appear to be seriously hurt.”
Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, praised the marines’ bravery.
“Thanks to the calm composure of the two American passengers, we have avoided a tragedy. Without them we would have faced a terrible drama.”