Off-duty US servicemen Anthony Sadler (L), Spencer Stone (2nd L), Alek Skarlatos (R) and US ambassador to France Jane Hartley (2nd R) pose after a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23,  two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen.
PHOTO: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
Off-duty US servicemen Anthony Sadler (L), Spencer Stone (2nd L), Alek Skarlatos (R) and US ambassador to France Jane Hartley (2nd R) pose after a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen.
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From the left, British businessman Chris Norman,  Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. Hollande  pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
PHOTO: Michel Euler/AP
From the left, British businessman Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. Hollande pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
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Off-duty US Air Force Spencer Stone (L), one of the men to overpower the gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on a high-speed train, gestures as he leaves the hospital of Lesquin, northern France on August 22. On August 21, a gunman opened fire on the train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. Spencer Stone was first to the gunman who slashed him in the neck and almost sliced off his thumb with a box-cutter.
PHOTO: Phiippr Huguen/AFP/Getty Images
Off-duty US Air Force Spencer Stone (L), one of the men to overpower the gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on a high-speed train, gestures as he leaves the hospital of Lesquin, northern France on August 22. On August 21, a gunman opened fire on the train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. Spencer Stone was first to the gunman who slashed him in the neck and almost sliced off his thumb with a box-cutter.
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An undated photo released by a social network shows the 25-year-old Moroccan suspect in Friday's shooting, named as Ayoub El-Khazzani, who was overpowered by two US servicemen and other passengers before he could kill anyone during an attack aboard an Amsterdam-Paris Thalys train on August 21, 2015. He lived in (southern) Spain in Algeciras for a year, until 2014, then he decided to move to France. Once in France he went to Syria, then returned to France, according to a Spanish anti-terror source.
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NS Slug: FRANCE: TRAIN HEROES HONORED-CHRIS NORMAN (DEPARTURE, REMARKS)    Synopsis: French President  Francois Hollande gives France's highest award to train heroes who fought attacker    Video Shows: Chris Norman leaves Elysee Palace after receiving Legion of Honor      Keywords: FRANCE TRAIN TERROR ANTHONY SADLER SPENCER STONE ALEK SKARLATOS CHRIS NORMAN AYOUB EL KHAZZANI
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NS Slug: FRANCE: TRAIN HEROES HONORED-CHRIS NORMAN (DEPARTURE, REMARKS) Synopsis: French President Francois Hollande gives France's highest award to train heroes who fought attacker Video Shows: Chris Norman leaves Elysee Palace after receiving Legion of Honor Keywords: FRANCE TRAIN TERROR ANTHONY SADLER SPENCER STONE ALEK SKARLATOS CHRIS NORMAN AYOUB EL KHAZZANI
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Off-duty US servicemen Anthony Sadler (L), Spencer Stone (2nd L), Alek Skarlatos (R) and US ambassador to France Jane Hartley (2nd R) pose after a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen.
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From the left, British businessman Chris Norman,  Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. Hollande  pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
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Story highlights

NEW: Suspect's lawyer reportedly says her client denies trying to launch a terror attack

Three Americans, a Briton and a French national are credited with helping avert the attack

"It is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy," President Obama says

(CNN) —  

The three friends from the United States traveled in Europe as vacationers. Now the world knows them as heroes.

Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos were aboard a high-speed train en route to Paris from Amsterdam on Friday when a gunman opened fire.

Along with two others – a French national and a Briton – they charged, tackled and subdued him, officials said.

Applause poured in from world leaders and citizens alike as more details emerged on the chaotic, bloody scene aboard the train.

Here are the five heroes who may have averted a massacre:

ALEK SKARLATOS

The 22-year-old Skarlatos, a National Guardsman based in Oregon, was on a monthlong vacation after his return from deployment in Afghanistan.

But instead of taking in scenic European countrysides, he was taking on an attacker aboard a zipping train.

Skarlatos heard gunfire and breaking glass, and sensed something was wrong. When the suspect appeared with a gun in their car, he mobilized others.

He is the one who yelled “get him” after he heard a gunshot and noticed that the gunman’s weapon appeared to be jammed.

“The guy had a lot of ammo,” Skarlatos said of the attacker. “His intentions were pretty clear.”

Once they charged at him, he seized the gunman’s rifle and pounded him in the head with the muzzle repeatedly.

“I’m so proud of (my son). I mean I’m in awe,” his father, Emanuel Skarlatos, told CNN affiliate KVAL in Roseburg, Oregon. “He inspires me.”

ANTHONY SADLER

Sadler, a senior at California State University in Sacramento, was on his first trip to Europe when terror struck.

When his friends jumped the gunman and took him down, he and another passenger helped restrain him and ensure he stayed down.

“The three of us beat up the guy,” Sadler said. “In the process, Spencer gets slashed multiple times by the box cutter, and Alek takes the AK away.”

Sadler helped tie up the suspect then went to other train cars to reassure passengers, said Jean-Hugues Anglade, a French actor who was traveling with his family.

He “came running into our car, yelling that the shooter was overpowered by American soldiers on leave, that everything was fine,” Anglade told French magazine Paris Match. “He reassured us, he looked for survival blankets and a first aid kit for two seriously injured people.”

It’ll be hard to top his first trip to Europe and his final year in college.

“I’m just a college student, it’s my last year in college. I came to see my friends on my first trip in Europe and we stopped a terrorist, it’s kind of crazy,” Sadler told CNN.

He urged people to be proactive during such situations.

“The gunman would have been successful if my friends had not gotten up,” he said.

CHRIS NORMAN

Briton Chris Norman rushed to help the Americans overpower the suspected gunman.

“All of us were in the same carriage, these two guys plus Spencer – the guy who got injured – were sitting on the same seats, the same row at the back of the train,” Norman said.

Norman, who said he was sitting at the front of the car, saw a train employee dash past.

“I looked up, I saw a guy carrying an AK-47, or at least I assumed it was some kind of machine gun anyway,” he said. “I ducked down in my seat.”

When Skarlatos and his friends tackled the gunman, Norman said rapid reasoning” prompted him to jump in and help subdue the gunman.

“My thought was, ‘OK, I’m probably going to die anyway, so let’s go.’ I’d rather die being active, trying to get him down, than simply sit in the corner and be shot. Either you sit down and you die or you get up and you die. It was really nothing more than that.”

He said his instincts kicked in.

“We’ve seen enough of these kinds of attacks to understand that they will kill everybody once they get started, and my point of view was, two guys had already started tackling him,” Norman said. “Maybe they needed some help. … I said to myself, maybe I have a chance if I get up and I help as well.”

Americans, French national tackle, overpower suspected Islamist gunman on train

SPENCER STONE

When the group decided to take down the gunman, Stone rushed him first, getting slashed several times with a box cutter in the process.

“If anybody would have gotten shot, it would have been Spencer for sure, and we’re very lucky that nobody got killed, especially Spencer,” Skarlatos said.

He tackled him and seized his weapons, including a box cutter, he said.

“It feels pretty crazy. I never thought I’d be here,” Stone said.

Stone suffered wounds in the head and neck, and almost had his thumb cut off.

Despite his injuries, he helped a man who had his throat cut and applied pressure to the neck to prevent him from bleeding out, according to his friends.

Stone, who serves in the U.S. Air Force, was hospitalized for a day. He was released Saturday.

UNKNOWN FRENCH NATIONAL

In addition to the four men, a French national is credited with helping avert a massacre. Authorities did not identify him.

A “French (male) passenger tried courageously to overpower him before the suspect fired several shots,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

“Then two American passengers intervened and managed to overpower the shooter, immobilized him on the ground and put aside his weaponry.”

Applause from world leaders

U.S. President Barack Obama described the three Americans as heroes, and commended and congratulated them in a phone call after the incident.

“The President expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including U.S. service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker,” the White House said in a statement.

“It is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy.”

His French counterpart, Francois Hollande, spoke to them by phone and saluted their bravery. He will present them Monday with Legion of Honor medals, France’s highest recognition.

Anthony Sadler, from left, Spencer Stone, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley and Alek Skarlatos.
PHOTO: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
Anthony Sadler, from left, Spencer Stone, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley and Alek Skarlatos.

“We often use the word hero, and in this case it has never been more appropriate,” U. S. ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, said Sunday.

The suspected gunman, Ayoub El Khazzani, is a Moroccan national, a senior European official said.

He is in custody and undergoing interrogations.

His lawyer told CNN affiliate BFMTV that her client denies he was trying to launch a terror attack. Instead, he boarded the train with the intention of robbing passengers, said Sophie David.

CNN’s Pierre Meilhan, Jessica King and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.