A Muslim employee of a kosher grocery store in Paris is being hailed as a hero for hiding several customers in a walk-in freezer to save them from a violent gunman.
Lassana Bathily, 24, led the others into the basement of his workplace, Hyper Cacher, when Amedy Coulibaly opened fire on Friday, according to French media.The gunman burst into the store just hours before the Jewish Sabbath began and killed four people in what President François Hollande called "a terrifying anti-Semitic act."
“I opened the door, and several people came in with me. I turned off the lights, I turned off the freezer, and they got into the freezer,” Bathily told local station BFMTV. “I told them to calm down, to not make noise. If he knows we’re here, he can come down and kill us.”
The young man managed to exit the facility through a freight elevator, but when he got outside, police mistook him for one of the terrorists and cuffed him, he said.
Bathily says he helped the officers with his knowledge of the floor plan as they prepared to storm the grocery store in the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood of the capital.
The people he saved expressed profound gratitude after the violence was over, he said.
“When they got out, they congratulated me,” Bathily told the station. “They said, ‘Honestly, thank you for having thought of that,’ and I said, ‘You're welcome. It's nothing, that's life.’”
A source told Le Parisien that six people had been holed up in the freezer.
At least 19 people are dead, including the three gunmen, after the worst terrorist violence France has seen in decades.
A fourth suspect, Hayat Boumeddiene, is still at large. She is thought to be armed and dangerous.