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Muslim Employee of Paris Kosher Grocery Store Hailed as Hero for Saving 7 Jews

( [email protected] ) Jan 12, 2015 08:41 PM EST
A Muslim employee who worked at a Paris kosher grocery store has been credited with saving seven lives when a gunman, who previously declared his loyalty to ISIS, took hostages there.
Esther Bekerman, 19, left, a cousin of one of the hostages, and Eliahou Rouas Cohen, 19, right, light a candle at a makeshift memorial near a kosher grocery store where four hostages were killed in Paris, Jan. 10, 2015. Francois Mori—AP

A radical Muslim gunman who declared his loyalty to ISIS went to a Paris kosher supermarket on Friday, leading to a shootout that left him and four hostages dead. However, another Muslim has been hailed as a hero in France for saving lives on that fateful day.

A kosher store employee, 24-year-old Lassana Bathily, a citizen from the African country of Mali, helped guide several Jewish shoppers in a basement freezer while he sneaked out to inform police about the gunman, Amedy Coulibaly. According to Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley of CNN, the "practicing Muslim" spoke with French television BFMTV about the hairy situation and later turned off the freezer light and went outside to get help.

"I'm the one (who) is going to go out," Bathily reportedly told the hostages. "I took the elevator and went upstairs."

Bathily later told BFMTV that the gunman "asked us all to come upstairs," noting that Coulibaly "would kill everyone who was downstairs."

"We were locked in there," Bathily said. "I told them to calm down, not make any noise, or else if he hears that we're there, he can come down and kill us."

According to Raphael Satter of the Associated Press, Bathily turned off the freezer and sneaked out through a fire escape to talk with French police. Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post reported that he was initially taken down by force and handcuffed on suspicion of being an accomplice to the shooter.

"Bathily spent the next 90 minutes in cuffs before he managed to convince authorities he was who he said he was," McCoy wrote. "He told the cops he wasn't alone. There were more than a dozen other hostages locked inside the store's freezer."

Bathily gave French police a key that could open the supermarket's metal blinds along with information about the store's layout. An anonymous police official told the Associated Press that Bathily's information and key allowed them to storm the supermarket without punching through the shutters.

"That's exactly what the police did, soon killing the gunman," McCoy wrote.

The Associated Press noted that witnesses and authorities have corroborated Bathily's account. According to the Washington Post, French politicians called for him to be awarded France's highest honor, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally thanked him.

"I want to express my appreciation for the Mali citizen who helped save seven Jews," Netanyahu said Sunday night.

The Associated Press reported that 33-year-old Mohammed Amine, a friend and former co-worker of Bathily, spoke with him about the attack on Saturday.

"The guy was so courageous," Amine said of his friend.

As for Bathily, he noted that the hostages thanked him for saving their lives in that basement. However, the Washington Post indicated that he was a bit more reserved about his actions.

"They congratulated me," Bathily said. "They said, 'Really, thanks for thinking of all these ideas.' I said, 'It's nothing. It's life.'"

Tags : Paris attacks, Paris shootings, Paris week of terror, Jewish supermarket, kosher supermarket, kosher supermarket Paris, Lassana Bathily, Amedy Coulibaly, Mali, Africa, Lassana Bathily Muslim, Muslim kosher supermarket employee, French police, ISIS, Paris shooting hero