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Heroes derail terrorist’s plans on French train

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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French President Francois Hollande and a bevy of officials are presenting the Americans with the prestigious Legion of Honor on Monday. The three American travelers say they relied on gut instinct and a close bond forged over years of friendship as they took down a heavily armed man on a passenger train speeding through Belgium. (Credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Last Friday while traveling on a high-speed train going from Amsterdam to Paris, five men stopped Ayoub El Khazzani from perpetrating what French President Francois Hollande described as a potential “tragedy, a massacre.” El Khazzani, a Moroccan nationalist, had recently returned from Turkey in what a senior European counterterrorism official speculated was an attempt to join ISIS in Syria. While the Frenchman who was the first to try and stop El Khazzani has declined to be publicly identified and will be honored at a later date, Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, along with Chris Norman of Britain, were awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, on Sunday.

While they have been widely, and appropriately, hailed as heroes, each of them has been hesitant to accept the designation. Rather, to a man, they see themselves more as people who simply did what they had to do to survive. So when El Khazzani’s gun jammed, Skarlatos, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard who had recently returned from a 9 month tour in Afghanistan, saw an opportunity to act and encouraged Stone and Sadler to join him in stopping the would-be terrorist.

Stone, an Airman First Class stationed in Portugal, was the first to get there and suffered cuts to his neck and head in addition to nearly getting his thumb severed off when, after getting both the AK-47 and handgun away from El Khazzani, the attacker started swinging a box cutter. Eventually, they were able to render him unconscious and tie him up until the train could reach the next station.

However, as Skarlatos described, the situation could have been much worse: El Khazzani “had pulled the trigger on the AK. The primer was just faulty, and the gun didn’t go off, luckily…And he didn’t know how to fix it, which is also very lucky.” In addition “There was no magazine in [the handgun], so he either dropped it accidentally or didn’t load it properly, so he was only able to get what appeared to be one shot off.” Skarlatos concluded “if that guy’s weapon had been functioning properly, I don’t even want to think about how it would have went.”

The men who stopped El Khazzani, as well as the other 500 plus passengers on the train, are undoubtedly fortunate that both he and his weapons were not better equipped to carry out the intended attack. After all, even extraordinary courage needs a bit of help. And while each of the men who acted demonstrated great bravery in what they did, they have since demonstrated a recognition that their actions were not the only reasons that they and the other passengers survived. Circumstance, fortune, luck, divine providence…whatever you’d like to call it also played an integral role.

I had a professor once who described luck as what happens when preparation meets opportunity and I think that is a decent understanding for us to keep in mind when it comes to our walk with Christ. We can, and should, prepare each day for whatever opportunities God may give us to serve him. However, we cannot always control how or when they will appear. Rather, we must be like the five women of whom Jesus spoke that were prepared for the bridegroom to come even though they didn’t know when he would arrive (Matthew 25:1-13). They took the necessary steps to be ready and were rewarded as a result.

Your next chance to share the gospel, demonstrate Christ’s love, or be his hands and feet to the world around you may come at a time when you least expect it. How you prepare today will go a long ways towards determining how effective you will be when that opportunity appears. The men who stopped El Khazzani last Friday had no way of knowing what awaited them when they decided to board that train, but they were ready. Will you be?