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President Obama on Belgium Train Shooting: U.S. Servicemen's Heroic Actions May Have Prevented a Far Worse Tragedy

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PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty

The White House released a statement on Friday in response to the attack by a heavily armed gunman on a Paris-bound train that was foiled by passengers including three Americans.

“The President expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers including U.S. service members who selflessly subdued the attacker,” a White House official told PEOPLE in a statement. “While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy.”

On Saturday afternoon, President Barack Obama gave them a call.

“The President expressed his gratitude to these three individuals for their heroic actions forestalling an even greater tragedy,” Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told PEOPLE.

The three men, along with British citizen Chris Norman, successfully thwarted the gunman’s planned attack. French officials said the unidentified man, who was armed with 300 rounds of ammunition, was surprised by someone entering the bathroom at about 6 p.m. local time.

The gunman fired, drawing the attention of the trio.

“At that point I ducked down,” Skarlatos, who recently returned from Afghanistan, told Britain’s Sky News on Saturday. “[Stone] next to me ducked down.

“I just looked at Spencer and said, ‘Let’s go! Go!’ ”

Stone moved first, Skarlatos said. “I followed behind him by about three seconds. Spencer got to the guy first, grabbed the guy by the neck and I grabbed the handgun, got the handgun away from the guy and threw it.

“Then I grabbed the AK which was at his feet, and started muzzle-bumping him in the head with it.”

Stone was cut by the gunman’s box cutter during the struggle, but has been released from the hospital, according to the Telegraph.

The train was rerouted to the French town of Arras, approximately 115 miles north of Paris, where the suspect was arrested and the men were awarded medals.

Reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL