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French train staff 'reacted well' during attack, internal probe says

© Philippe Huguen, AFP | Crime and forensic investigators stand on a platform next to a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015


Latest update : 2015-09-18

Staff on the French train involved in a foiled attack by a heavily armed gunman "had the best reaction possible in an unprecedented situation", an internal probe concluded Friday said, despite claims some had locked themselves away.

Some passengers on the Amsterdam to Paris train complained that when staff heard shots fired, some had locked themselves in the engine car and left the passengers to their fate.

The gunman was overpowered by two off-duty US servicemen and their friend, whom investigators believe almost certainly prevented carnage in the incident on August 21.

The report said the intervention of four people who first encountered the gunman – a French passenger, then two train conductors and then a French-American passenger who was shot in the back – made the gunman "lose enough time" for the Americans to stop him.

Addressing allegations that its staff had fled, Thalys – a branch of France's state-run rail operator SNCF – said one of the two guards had confronted the gunman in Carriage 13, while another had panicked and taken refuge in the engine of the train with two of the bar staff and three passengers.

'He panicked'

"He said he had feared for his life and had panicked and felt as if he was 'trapped in a tunnel', so he did not think to alert the passengers in Carriage 11," the report said.

That meant that none of the passengers in the carriage were initially aware of the dramatic events in the carriages next to them.

The internal investigation said that as a result of the incident, Thalys train staff will receive extra training in dealing with "situations of extreme crisis and danger".

It added that the train staff "are victims of this attack" and some had suffered psychological trauma.

Amateur footage of the attack's immediate aftermath

Changes will also be made to the way the train conductors, or guards, communicate with the driver of the high-speed trains.

It had taken the driver two minutes to fully understand what was happening in the carriages behind him – "a normal reaction time, given the conditions," the report said.

"Nevertheless, this event has highlighted several weak points in the system," it concluded.

One was that it would have been impossible to alert the driver if the two train guards had been among the victims of the attack – guards have to use telephones in fixed positions.

Thalys will now look at ways of installing a more efficient way of communication between the driver and the train, the report said.

Ayoub El Khazzani, a 25-year-old Moroccan national, has been charged with "attempted murder of a terrorist nature" over the attack.

The report into the incident was released on the day that Dutch police evacuated a Thalys train and part of Rotterdam station after a man locked himself in the train's toilets and refused to come out.

Train services from the city were suspended for several hours after the man, whose motives remain unclear, was seen "running onto a stationary train and going directly into the toilet," Dutch police said.


Date created : 2015-09-18

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