A Muslim employee of the Paris supermarket in which four hostages and the hostage-taker were shot and killed on Friday is being called a hero today. Lassana Bathily is being lauded for his quick thinking during the crisis, which saved the lives of up to 15 customers of the kosher grocery store.
The 24-year-old man, who is originally from Mali, was working at the Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris on Friday when an armed man, who has been identified as Amedy Coulibaly, suddenly ran into the store. Speaking with French television station BFMTV, Bathily said that he led the customers to the walk-in freezer in the basement. Once everyone had been hidden inside, he turned off the room’s lights and power, and instructed the assembled customers to stay calm and remain quiet, saying “if he hears that we’re [here], he can come down and kill us.”
Sometime during the four-hour ordeal, Bathily made the decision to leave the basement hiding place and make an attempt to escape in the freight elevator that led to the building’s attic. Although he tried to persuade some of the hidden customers to accompany him, there were no takers due to the fear that they would be heard by the gunman.
The solo escape attempt proved successful with one glitch. As he left the store, Coulibaly was still holding hostages inside, and police believed Bathily to possibly be a terrorist escaping from the store. He was ordered to lie on the ground and to rest his hands on top of his head. French television station Europe 1 ran a video on Friday which appeared to show the shop employee’s escape and his compliance to the subsequent police orders.
Bathily says that his hands were cuffed and he was detained “for an hour and a half” by the police. After authorities determined that he was not complicit in the attack, Bathily was able to provide the police with information regarding the inside of the supermarket and the location of the hostages inside, which gave police the knowledge that breaking through the front door of the store would not put the trapped civilians inside in danger. By this time, the people who Bathily had hidden inside of the basement storage room were speaking with police outside via telephone.
Police eventually shot Coulibaly. Four hostages were killed during the siege. After the shoppers who had been hiding were released, Bathily was congratulated and thanked by those he had saved. He responded by saying, “It’s nothing, it’s life.” People on social media sites worldwide disagree. Calls to bestow the highest French award, the Legion of Honor, or to grant the Mali man French citizenship to reward him for his bravery traveled across the globe.
Members of Paris’ Jewish community attended a vigil on Saturday in memory of the four hostages who died in the kosher supermarket. A country-wide rally in France, also held on Saturday, numbered upwards of 700,000 people who came together to support the victims of both terrorist attacks which occurred in Paris last week. A planned rally is scheduled to take place in Paris on Sunday and is expected to draw an even greater number of supporters.
By Jennifer Pfalz