One of the unsung heroes after Friday’s hostage crisis at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris was a Muslim employee, who hid shoppers in a basement walk-in freezer while desperate Muslim terrorists fired shots and seized hostages just upstairs.
Lassana Bathily, described by Le Parisien as a “Malian Muslim,” helped the shoppers to safety amid the chaos of jihadist Ahmed Coulibaly entering the store and taking hostages while police closed in. Able to contact their families and local authorities with cell phones, they stayed safe in the freezing cold for five hours, according to The Daily Mail. (RELATED: Is Paris Burning? Terrorist Manhunt Ends In Bloodbath)
Huddling together and cracking jokes — “We’ll open a bottle of wine, there are plenty down here” — they were helped to safety soon after the police gained control of the building and killed Coulibaly. French news outlets called Bathily a “quiet hero” for his conduct in the crisis.
The shop was busy on a Friday as Jewish customers bought specialties for the Sabbath, which began at sunset that night. But its clientele was as diverse as the neighborhood where it sat: Twenty-five-year-old French Muslim Malik Zadi told The Washington Post that “It’s a kosher store, but not only Jews go there. I go there… In this neighborhood, there are Muslims, Jews, Christians.”
France’s Jewish Defense League thanked Lassana Bathily by name on Twitter, saying he “saved many Jewish lives by hiding them in the cold room,” and using the hashtag “#JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies.”
Despite the warm inter-religious atmosphere in the neighborhood of Porte de Vincennes, overall France has seen an rise in violence against Jews, especially perpetrated by Islamic radicals. The year 2014 was the first year in which France topped the list of countries whose Jews fled for Israel, citing an increasingly unsafe environment. (RELATED: Jews Leaving Europe For Israel In Record Numbers)
France’s sizable Muslim minority — around 5 to 10 percent of the population — has found itself on both sides of this week’s violence: The police officer killed on the sidewalk by the Kouachi brothers following their attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo was Muslim patrolman Ahmed Merabet. (RELATED: Ahmed Merabet, Cop Killed In Paris Attacks, Was Muslim)
Writing in the Huffington Post on Friday, terrorism expert Olivier Roy pointed out that “in France, there are more Muslims in the army, the police, and the gendarmes” than there are working for al-Qaida, “not to mention in government administration, the hospitals, law practices or the educational system.” While not a public servant, Lassana Bathily proved himself a valuable Muslim member of French society on Friday.