Still reeling from January’s attacks, soul-searching is under way for a more inclusive – and hopeful – France.
US President Barack Obama has praised two off-duty US soldiers for their role in stopping a gun attack on a train travelling between Amsterdam and Paris.
Obama thanked the men for their “courage and quick thinking” after the attack on Friday on Belgian territory near the northern French town of Arras. Two others, including another US national, and a British man living in France were also involved in tackling the attacker.
The incident left three people injured, including one of the men who subdued the gunman, a 26-year-old of Moroccan origin who was known to the intelligence services, French investigators said.
The man, who was arrested at a railway station in Arras, had a Kalashnikov, an automatic pistol, ammunition and a box cutter in his luggage, one police source told AFP news agency after Friday’s incident.
‘Extremely violent suspect’
Bernard Cazeneuve, French interior minister, who went to Arras in the wake of the incident, praised the two Americans who had subdued the “extremely violent” suspect.
They showed “great bravery in very trying circumstances”, he said. “Without their cool-headed actions we could have been faced with a terrible incident.”
Footage showed three men, Americans Anthony Sadler and Aleck Sharlatos, and Chris Norman, receiving medals at a restaurant in Arras for their actions, the Reuters news agency reported.
A Spanish official, linked to the country’s anti-terrorism unit, said the individual lived in Spain until 2014, then moved to France, travelled to Syria, and then returned to France, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Cazeneuve said that the suspect may have been flagged by Spanish authorities last year for links to radical movements.
“I condemn the terrorist attack on the Thalys [train] and express my sympathy to the victims,” Charles Michel, Belgian prime minister, said on Twitter of the incident which occurred while the train was on Belgian territory.
French President Francois Hollande and Michel agreed in a telephone call to “cooperate closely” in the investigation, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.
The incident occurred at 5.50pm local time (15:50 GMT), the train operator said.
The French prosecutor’s office said its anti-terrorist section had taken over the investigation into the incident, “in view of the weaponry used, the way it happened and the context”.
“The passengers are safe, the situation has been brought under control,” train operator Thalys, which is jointly owned by the national rail companies of Belgium, France and Germany, said on Twitter.
France remains on edge after armed men attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January in a spree that killed 17 people and shocked the world.
In June, a man beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a gas plant in southern France in what prosecutors say was an attack inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
In May last year, four people, including two Israeli tourists, were killed when an armed man opened fire at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.