Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee at Paris Kosher grocery store Hyper Cacher, saved several people by hiding them in a walk-in freezer when a gunman laid siege to his workplace on Friday.
Amedy Coulibaly burst into the market and opened fire, killing 4 people. He took several shoppers hostage and threatened to kill them if police stormed the printing shop where Cherif and Said Kouachi, who killed 12 people in an attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo earlier in the week, were holed up in a village to the north.
Bathily, identified by French media as a “Malian Muslim,” helped several customers to safety as the chaos unfolded. “I went down to the freezer, I opened the door, there were several people who went in with me. I turned off the light and the freezer,” Bathily, 24, told French network BFMTV. “I brought them inside and I told them to stay calm here, I’m going to go out. When they got out, they thanked me.”
It’s unclear exactly how many people Bathily managed to hide inside the freezer in the store’s basement. City councillor Malik Yettou said that six people and a baby escaped the gunman by hiding there, while BFMTV put the number at about 15.
Meanwhile, another employee at the market escaped through an emergency exit and delivered the keys to the store to the police, according to L’Express.
Police raided the supermarket and the printing shop simultaneously, killing the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly.
Bathily told BFMTV that he managed to get out of the store through the freight elevator. When he encountered police, they seemed to initially mistake him for one of the terrorists. “They told me, get down on the ground, hands over your head,” he said. “They cuffed me and held me for an hour and a half as if I was with them.” He said that he then helped police with his knowledge of the floor plan of the store.
The young man is being lauded as a hero on social media, and held up as a reminder of how wrong it is to demonize all Muslims in the wake of the attacks. You can watch his interview with BFMTV in French above.
UPDATE, 6:30 p.m.: Bathily appeared on BFMTV Saturday night to talk about the harrowing experience. When asked about his heroic acts, he replied, “We are brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, of Christians or of Muslims. We’re all in the same boat, we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”