Veteran on Thwarting Terror Train Attack: It Was ‘Gut Response’

One of the subjects of Eastwood's next movie talks about vetting European refugees and his 'hero' status

Military man and former “Dancing with the Stars” competitor Alek Skarlatos, who with his two friends bravely tackled and disarmed an alleged terrorist on a Paris-bound train, has a lot to be grateful for.

Skarlatos told Fox News about his famed August 2015 brush with terror in Europe. “I still think about it every day. I get nightmares from time to time.”

The Oregon Army National Guardsman, who served in Afghanistan, and his pals Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler rose to fame after overpowering Ayoub El Khazzani on a train traveling to Paris from Amsterdam.

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El Khazzani shot and seriously wounded a passenger, but then Skarlatos yelled to Airman First Class Stone, “Get him!”

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Stone attacked the alleged gunman and Skarlatos followed his friend, grabbing El Khazzani’s rifle and pounding him in the head with the muzzle until he was unconscious. Sadler, their buddy from childhood who wasn’t in the military, helped subdue the suspect.

Since the scary incident, El Khazzani, an alleged Moroccan ISIS recruit, has been in custody in France.

Skarlatos and his two friends wrote a book about the massacre they averted, called “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes.” And it’s been reported that the legendary Clint Eastwood will direct an upcoming Warner Bros film based on the memoir, scheduled to start production later this year. The prospects for success look strong, as Eastwood directed the massive 2014 hit movie “American Sniper,” based on Chris Kyle’s memoir.

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Skarlatos told Fox News just days before Eastwood’s participation in the project was reported, “We’re kind of in the beginning stages of it now. I can’t say too much about it ’cause of nondisclosure, but it’s hopefully going to happen.”

“I obviously don’t think they should be letting in unvetted refugees by the hundreds of thousands.”

Looking back on the terror attack that changed his life, Skarlatos recalled, “It was just kind of a gut response. I guess I was just lucky that I was able to do something and not freeze up. That was the biggest thing I was grateful for because when you think about something like that, you never really know how you’re going to react until you actually do and so I was grateful I didn’t just sit there in shock.”

Skarlatos, who will leave the military after he fulfills several more months of Army National Guard duty, said what he remembers most is “the very time I saw the guy. It’s kind of a feeling that sticks with you when you realize what exactly is going on. Your heart sinks, and you can’t believe it’s actually happening all it once.

“It’s still something that I definitely can picture pretty vividly when I think back on it.”

Skarlatos, Stone and Sadler went back to Paris last summer for a reunion with embassy employees who gave the trio awards and Mark Moogalian, the American-born Frenchman who had been shot in the neck on the train and later recovered.

When asked by Fox News about how terror can be dealt with in Europe, Skarlatos said, “I don’t want to get too political, but I obviously don’t think they should be letting in unvetted refugees by the hundreds of thousands … I think Europe has made a lot of mistakes, and I think now the people of Europe are suffering the consequences. I hope they can fix it ’cause obviously it’s not turning out so well for them over there.”

He also said, “It angers me that nothing really major has happened to resolve any of this — terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East. It’s still an issue almost two years later [after the train incident].”

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Skarlatos said once the movie project with his two friends is done, he hopes to work in law enforcement. The military man, who appeared on the ABC reality show “Dancing with the Stars” in fall 2015, finishing third, rejects talk that he’s a hero.

“I don’t feel that way. In the end, we were trying not to die…saving ourselves. So the fact we saved other people is great but in the end, I only went to Spencer when Spencer went [to fight the gunman] and Spencer went because I told him to … It’s just about survival.”

But love of country comes naturally to Skarlatos.

“Obviously patriotism means a lot to me because I went to Afghanistan and fought for this country. I’m very proud to be an American. To say what it means to me would probably take too long!” he said.

This article originally appeared in Fox News and is used with permission.

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