Lassana Bathily was just a 24-year-old Malian Muslim who worked at the Hyper Cacher kosher market, and now he’s being personally thanked as a hero by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Bathily saved the lives of several Jewish customers, and gave the police a key to the kosher market windows during Friday’s terrorist shootout. Political leaders have called for the market employee to receive France’s highest honor for his bravery.
Amedy Coulibaly came in shooting, killing four Jewish customers almost immediately upon entering the kosher market, taking the survivors as hostages. He was fleeing from the scene of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Some of the customers came downstairs where Bathily was working, saying armed madmen had entered the market. The kosher market hero then began directing several customers into the downstairs freezer.
“I thought the only option was to hide in the freezer, so I switched it off and got everyone inside,” Bathily said in an interview with France 24.
At that point, he realized that he might be able to escape through the goods elevator. The hero tried to convince some of the customers to come with him, but they were still in shock. Bathily decided to go alone.
“I knew the emergency exits so I took my chance, but if the gunman had seen me I would have been dead,” the Malian Muslim explained.
He found the police, who immediately arrested him, thinking he was one of the Islamist terrorists.
“They told me, get down on the ground, hands over your head,” Bathily explained, “they cuffed me and held me for an hour and a half as if I was with them.”
Once Bathily earned the officers’ trust, he provided them with a key to open the market’s metal blinds, helping them mount their assault. The customers, meanwhile, had to stay hidden in the freezer for hours.
According to the Washington Post, one called at 5 p.m., saying, “we’re very afraid, and we’re very cold. Tell the police to hurry.”
Coulibaly, who was also from Mali, died during the assault, but the people Bathily stuck in the freezer were alright.
“When [the hostages] came out, they congratulated me.”
There are different reports about just how many customers he saved in the freezer. The Huffington Post reports that City Councillor Malik Yettou claimed it was six adults and one baby, but BFMTV said it was 15 people.
Whatever the number, the quick-thinking heroics have earned Bathily world-wide fame, and perhaps counteracted some of the ill-will towards Muslims created by the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
On Sunday night, even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the kosher market hero.
“I want to express my appreciation to the Mali citizen who helped save seven Jews.”
[Image via BFMTV]