Francois Hollande

On Awarding the Legion of Honour to the Thalys Heroes

delivered 24 August 2015


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]1

French Version

Mr. Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Belgium, dear Charles Michel, I would like to thank you for attending. It confirms once again the solidarity that exists between our two countries in the struggle against terrorism.

I would also like to welcome here Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a member of the Government; and also of the Ambassador of the United States; the representative of the British Kingdom; and the Ambassador of Belgium; and also the elected representatives of Arras and Pas-de-Calais, who also had to deal with an emergency situation; and also all the services that mobilized -- State services, but also the services of the Department. I can not forget the health workers who were called to act -- you know that at this very moment a Franco-American, Mr. Moogalian, is in the hospital undergoing a difficult ordeal, and we are in full solidarity with him; and I welcome the SNCF along with the Belgian and French railroad workers.

But today we are gathered here, gathered, to pay tribute to four people, four men, who have by their courage saved lives, who have set an example of what is possible to do in a dramatic situation.

Left to right: Christopher Norman, Anthony Sadler, President Hollande, Spencer Stone, Alexander Skarlatos/Image Source Credit:

Christopher Norman, Anthony Sadler, Alexandra -- Alexander Skarlatos, Spencer Stone: Last Friday, you were in the Thalys, between Amsterdam and Paris. Anthony, Alexander, Spencer -- you were three friends on vacation, discovering Europe, on your way to Paris. Christopher, you were returning home to Boulogne-Billancourt from a business trip. Three Americans and an Englishman, friends of France, whom the chance booking of a train brought them together in the same carriage.

But on Friday evening, an individual had decided to commit an attack on the Thalys. He had enough weapons and ammunition to cause real carnage. And that's what he would have done had you not defeated him at considerable risk to your own life.

My first thought is for the French traveler, the first to encounter the terrorist when he came out of the train's restroom already determined to fire. This compatriot threw himself on him to disarm him and then alerted all those around him. He did not want, as I understand, to see his name disclosed. But it was necessary that I greet him today.

Meanwhile, Ayoub El Khazzani, the terrorist, had already passed through compartment number 12 and had started shooting, wounding Mr. Mark Moogalian, the one I was talking about earlier, now hospitalized -- a Franco-American, who, again, showed courage and fortitude because he too intervened.

That's when you intervened, Alexander, Spencer. You threw yourself on the madman, who was trying to reload his weapon. You, Spencer, were the first, if I may say, to jump on him; you knocked him down. And you, Alexander, helped Spencer snatch his machine gun.

Disarmed for the first time, he then took out a gun that you made him drop and then a utility knife, with which he wounded Spencer in the head and hand before being subdued. Thanks to Anthony. Thanks to you, Christopher, who also came to lend a hand. Christopher, you tied him up with the help of another passenger on the train, Mr. Eric Tanty, a railroad worker, who was on the train and who also rightly acted although he was off duty and on his way home. And then, there is also the controller, Michel Bruet who gave the alarm and who made sure, there too, that he could put law enforcement in motion, ready to intervene if necessary. You, Spencer, while injured, provided first aid to Mr. Moogalian and undoubtedly saved the life of this French-American citizen. Once the alert was given, the train was rerouted to Arras station. Thus, the terrorist was able to be apprehended all the more easily because he was immobilized and tied up. And the wounded were immediately taken care of, treated with the professionalism and efficiency that are the honor of our French health system.

There you have it. Four men who stood up -- with others -- not merely to save their own lives but to help and save many others (because on that train, that Thalys, there were more than five hundred passengers). It is sufficient to know that Ayoub El Khazzani was in possession of three hundred rounds of ammunition, along with the firearms, to get a sense of what we have avoided: a tragedy, a massacre.

On behalf of France, I would like to thank you for what you have done. Since Friday, the whole world has admired your courage, your composure, your spirit of responsibility. This solidarity that has allowed you with your bare hands -- with your bare hands! -- to subdue an overarmed individual who was ready for anything. Your heroism will be an example to many, a source of inspiration. Faced with the evil that is out there, which is called terrorism, there is yet a good, that of humanity, which is what you embody.

Anthony Sadler, yesterday you summed up better than anyone what we could remember from what happened on Friday night in the Thalys. You said, the lesson we must learn is that in a moment of crisis like this, I would like people to understand that something must be done.2 Yes, something must be done. There is always something to do, in the face of aggression, even when it seems excessive, infamous, barbaric.

Yes, there is something to do. First of all, it is up to the public authorities, in France and in Europe, to take the necessary measures, including for rail transport. This will be the case. Meetings will be held at the initiative of the Minister of the Interior, Minister [Bernard] Caseneuve. And we will make appropriate arrangements with the public transport authorities.

But even beyond the necessary measures, measures that must be strengthened, there remains individual responsibility -- that which one man, or one woman, is capable of doing in individual circumstances. You have shown us that when facing terror, we have the power to resist; and so you have given us a lesson in courage, in will, and therefore in hope.

Spencer, Alexander, you are soldiers. But on Friday, you were mere passengers -- far from home, far from the theaters of operation where you fought. You behaved like soldiers, but also like responsible men. You have put your life on the line to defend an idea, the idea of freedom.

Today I am also thinking about all the soldiers who are fighting against terrorism, here in France and around the world. We are allies against terrorism. Today, you honor those soldiers. But you weren't alone; others stood with you. They didn't have your training, your experience in weapons or in danger. They had probably never seen a Kalashnikov in their lives, but they too stood up and in a way fought.

In the face of terrorism, it is by not giving in; it is by refusing fear; it is by standing up together that we will win. Against terrorism, our societies are not weak, and they will never be weak as long as they remain united. They will never be weak as long as there are courageous women and men ready to risk their lives. Friday evening on the Thalys, these men were of all nationalities -- an Englishman, Americans, Frenchmen. All of them formed a human community, that of the best, to avoid the worst.

Today, it is you, Alexander, Spencer, Anthony, Christopher that the French Republic thanks. And it will soon also do the same for our own nationals who have behaved in an exemplary manner. I am also thinking, as I have said several times, of Mr Moogalian, who is now hospitalized in Lilles and who brings us together because he is both French and American, and an English teacher.

  I also know that many people question the distinctions. [Yet,] I thought that to show the appreciation of the French nation, of the French Republic, it was necessary to give you the highest award: The Legion of Honour -- the highest distinction, to tell you how much we owe you. At the least, I did not want you three Americans to return to your own country without receiving this honor. This Legion of Honor rewards your courage but also the tremendous act of humanity that you performed -- around 6:30 p.m., aboard the Thalys Amsterdam-Paris train, in French territory, to save what was on that train: humanity.

Thank you.

Mr. Alexander Skarlatos, in the name of the French Republic, I make you a knight of the Legion of Honour.

Mr. Spencer Stone, in the name of the French Republic, I make you a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

Mr. Anthony Saddler, in the name of the French Republic, I make you a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

Mr. Christopher Norman, in the name of the French Republic, I make you a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

1 Transcript Note: The above transcript is not a verbatim transliteration.. Rather, it is a synthesis of discrete human and AI translation processes. AI contributions courtesy of DeepL and Bing.

2 Agreement among sources on the precise quotation as verbally delivered is inexact. The Guardian's report has Sadler stating: "In times of crisis like that, the lesson would be to do something.." France 24 has it: "I want the lesson to be that in times of crisis like that to do something. Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything and the gunman would have been successful if Spencer hadn’t gotten up.”

See also: The 15:17 to Paris

Image #1 Source:

Image #2 Source: Wikimedia

Page Created: 2/12/22

U.S. Copyright Status: Text and Image #1 = Open [Government] License 2.0. Used in good faith compliance with the terms found here. Image #2 = CC BY-SA 3.0












































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