American heroes
Anthony Sadler, from Pittsburg, California, Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, and British national Chris Norman overpowered a gunman armed with a Kalashnikov who opened fire on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris AFP/Getty Images

Two US servicemen, their friend and a British passenger who disarmed a Moroccan terrorist on a high-speed train have been awarded medals for bravery. The men received the award in an impromptu ceremony in a restaurant in Arras, France.

The gunman attempted to shoot passengers with an AK-47 during the train ride between Amsterdam and Paris. Spencer Stone, a member of the US Air Force, spotted the 26-year-old Moroccan acting suspiciously and heard him trying to load his weapon in the toilet of the high-speed Thayls train.

Alek Skarlatos, 22, a US National Guardsman from Oregon, told the BBC that Stone "grabbed the guy by the neck", allowing Skarlatos to take the gunman's pistol and AK-47 rifle. Anthony Sadler, from California, and Chris Norman, a British national, also helped to restrain the gunman, who attempted to break free by attacking Stone and Skarlatos with a knife.

In a TV interview Skarlatos said, "Spencer ran a good 10 metres to get to the guy and we didn't know that his gun was not working or anything like that, Spencer just ran anyway and if anybody would have gotten shot it would have been Spencer for sure. We're very lucky that nobody got killed, especially Spencer."

French authorities reported that four people were injured during the incident – two of the seriously. Stone remains in hospital from a knife wound, but did not receive a life-threatening injury.

Holiday heroes

Stone was travelling with Skarlatos, who was travelling through Europe. Skarlatos said that he had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was on his first European holiday.

"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," joked Sadler. Norman, a 62 year-old British consultant living in France, told reporters he had been sitting in the same carriage as the Americans when they heard a shot.

Leaders sing their praises

US president has expressed "profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including US service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker", White House officials told CNN. Meanwhile, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that "a terrible tragedy had been averted" thanks to the men.

The gunman was arrested when the train pulled into a station in the French town of Arras. It had 554 passengers on board, said a spokesman for the French state rail company SNCF.

A 26-year-old Morrocan national was taken into custody. A European counterterrorism official said he was known to European counterterrorism agencies for his radical jihadist views.

The gunman was armed with AK-47, a pistol and knife. The motive for the attack is still unclear.