By David Barrett
PARIS (Daily Telegraph) — The first heroic passenger to wrestle a weapon from the high-speed train gunman was Mark Moogalian, a 51-year-old professor at the Sorbonne, tackled Ayoub El-Khazzani during Friday’s bloody incident aboard an Amsterdam-Paris international service.
Francois Hollande, the French President, has announced he will award Moogalian the Legion d’Honneur, the country’s highest decoration, as soon as he is well enough.
Moogalian, who lives in Paris but is originally from Midlothian, Va., is the previously unnamed man who came to the aid of “Damien A”, 28, a French banker who confronted El-Khazzani, on August 21.
The academic acted instinctively to protect his wife Isabella Risacher, who was also aboard the Thalys train.
He tackled the Kalashnikov assault rifle off El-Khazzani, who then drew a sidearm and shot him in the neck before taking back the rifle, his sister has revealed.
Three other US citizens, including two military personnel, and Chris Norman, a British businessman then stepped in to disarm and overpower the assailant.
Moogalian’s sister Julia said: “He made sure his wife was hidden behind a seat. She watched the whole thing happen. He did manage to get the weapon away from the gunman. But the gunman then pulled another gun and shot my brother. There’s a video of him saying ‘help me’ — he thought he was losing so much blood he would die.”
She added, “He’s in extremely good shape — he cycles miles and runs — so we think that stood him well for this.”
The academic, a keen musician and cyclist, was shot in the back of the neck and the bullet passed through his body causing nerve damage, his sister said.
“He’s in the hospital still and it looks like he may have lost some of the functionality of his left arm. He’s okay. He still has metal from the bullet in his body. We are extremely proud of him.”
Risacher said: “He is in the hospital and he is alright. But it was quite a difficult situation. Because he took the bullet in the back of the neck and it came out from the front it is quite a bad wound.”
She later told BFM TV: “My husband told me he saw a man who he thought appeared strange because he went into the toilet with his bag and stayed there for a very long time. Then the man came out and he saw that the man was carrying a weapon and another person was tackling him from behind. He told me, ‘Go, this is serious.’ I just moved a few seats away and my husband rushed at the man to take his weapon, a Kalashnikov.”
She added that she saw him collapse through the gaps between the seats. “He looked at me and said, ‘I’m hit, I’m hit.’ He thought he was going to die. I rushed to him and I saw he was hit in the back. I made a sort of tourniquet with a scarf and then I saw that he had another wound on the neck. I ran into carriage number 11 to ask for help. I asked if there was a doctor and I said, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead’. No one came so I went back to carriage number 12 while the American soldiers were pinning the attacker down.
“Spencer Stone [a US airman who has also been awarded the Legion d’Honneur] knew how to give first aid. He put his finger on the wound in the middle of his neck and he stayed in that position for the whole journey until we got to Arras so I think he really saved my husband’s life.”
Moogalian, who holds dual French and American nationality, teaches English at the Paris-Sorbonne University.