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.
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 four victims killed in the terror attack on a kosher shop in the French capital were all Jews, the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities said.
CRIF identified the victims of the attack Friday as Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Francois-Michel Saada.
“These French citizens were struck down in a cold-blooded manner and mercilessly because they were Jews,” read the CRIF statement sent out on Saturday.
Hattab, was the son of the chief rabbi of Tunis.
According to testimonies of people who survived the attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, the four people who were killed during the incident were shot in the early stages of the seven-hour standoff, which ended when police stormed the shop and killed the hostage taker — a 32-year-old man identified as Amedy Coulibaly.
Cohen was the grandson of a famous Jewish-Tunisian singer, Doukha who died last month. His parents, of Algerian and Tunisian descent, immigrated to Sarcells, a Jewish neighborhood of Paris, in the 1960s.
He was a fan of rap music, according to his Facebook page, and had recently published an image bearing the popular “Je Suis Charlie” slogan, in honor of the 12 people massacred on Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris by two terrorist brothers who, it later turned out, were working together with the gunman of the market attack.
Cohen is believed to have been the first victim of Coulibaly, who started his siege of the market under a hail of gunfire, according to an account on JSSnews. Reports still differ but it seems Barham and Saada were also shot and killed during the take-over or shortly after the siege began
Saada leaves behind two children, both of whom live in Israel. “He was a remarkable husband and father, a man who lived his life for his family,” an unnamed friend told AFP.
Barham’s children go to a Jewish school, near the site where a policewoman was gunned down by Coulibaly on Thursday.
Hattab, one of seven children to parents living in Tunisia, was a university student living alone in Paris. He is reported to be the son of the chief rabbi of Tunis.
According to reports, Hattab was the market customer who managed to snatch one of Coulibaly’s weapons, turning it on him before realizing it was jammed. Coulibaly then executed him on the spot, according to a witness who spoke to Le Point.