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Monday, December 5, 2016

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) — A machine gun-toting attacker wounded three people on a high-speed train in France on Friday before being overpowered by passengers who included an American soldier.

The wounded were the soldier, French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, and a Briton. Local media reported that U.S. Marines were among those who brought down the gunman.

Officials said the attacker was arrested after the shooting when the Amsterdam to Paris train stopped at Arras station in northern France.

A French ministry spokesman said the gunman’s motives were not known. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the French anti-terrorism prosecutor was investigating the incident.

France has been on high security alert since Islamist militants killed 17 people in and around Paris in January, among them staff of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and hostages who were taken in a Jewish shop.

Commending the involvement of what he said were two U.S. citizens, Cazeneuve said, “Without their courage we would have surely faced a terrible tragedy.”

A spokesman for the United States European Command confirmed that one of the passengers who had been injured was a soldier, and said his life was not in danger.

Cazeneuve urged caution over the nature of the attack, which he said was a matter for the prosecutor to investigate.

“As always where an act that could be terrorist in nature is involved, the greatest care and the greatest precision will be used,” he said.

A spokesman for French railway SNCF said on iTele television, “The man was armed with automatic weapons and blades. He was stopped by passengers.” A statement from SNCF’s European affiliate Thalys said the attacker got on its train in Brussels.

Police union official Slimane Hamzi said the 26-year-old man was armed with a kalashnikov and had said he was of Moroccan origin.

Since the January attacks in Paris there have been other incidents. In June, a suspected Islamist beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a U.S-owned industrial gas plant in the suburbs of Lyon.

And in July, French officials said they had prevented an attack on a senior French military official by arresting four people whose leader had links to jailed jihadists.

Thalys is partly-owned by SNCF and Belgian railways and runs international trains joining France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. All four countries are part of the Schengen area through which people travel without the need for passports and security check-ins.

French President Francois Hollande said he had talked to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and that the two governments were cooperating in the investigation.

Michel said in a tweet, “I condemn the terrorist attack … and express my sympathy for the victims.”

The Belgian government is considering taking extra security measures, a spokesman said.

 

(Additional reporting by Andrew Callus, Elizabeth Pineau, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Barbara Lewis in Brussels and David Alexander in Washington Editing by Andrew Callus, Mark Trevelyan, Toni Reinhold)

Photo: French judicial police stand on the train platform near gun cartridges and a backpack in Arras, France, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol