Between 15 and 20 hostages held in the Hyper Cacher supermarket on Friday owe their lives to one man: Lassana Bathily.
The 24-year-old Malian born grocery store employee was working when the assailant Amedy Coulibaly stormed in and he quickly took everyone downstairs to the cold store.
Bathily told everyone to remain quiet, fearing the attacker might come after them, he explained to BFMTV afterwards.
He then unplugged the freezer, turned off the light inside and kept a lookout.
After some time a colleague came down and said Coulibaly had figured out more people were hiding downstairs and was demanding that they come up .
If not, he threatened to him come down and shoot everyone.
That's when Bathily said he decided to escape using the delivery lift to the emergency exit.
Once outside, police immediately thought he was an assailant and he was hand-cuffed for an hour and a half.
After learning he had hidden some of the hostages, the police then sprung into action.
“They asked ‘Are they in a safe place, so that if we go in there will be no victims?’ I said “No, no, no, where they are, they are well-protected”, Bathily said. “Afterwards about 15 people came out and congratulated me and said ‘Really, thank you so much for having this idea.’ I said ‘It's nothing, it's life’.”.
BFMTV immediately hailed him as the heroic Muslim Malian and the video quickly went viral on social media.
The family of police officer Ahmed Merabet, who was murdered by Chérif and Saïd Kouachi during their killing spree at the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, on Saturday spoke out against racist reactions to the slaughter.
“I say to all the racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites – stop making amalgams, starting wars, burning mosque and synagogues,” Merabet’s brother, Malek, said at a press conference. “You attacking people won’t bring back our dead or bring peace to our families.”
Later Coulibaly’s mother and sisters offered condolences to the families of the four people he shot dead at the supermarket and the police officer he killed the previous day.
“We condemn these acts,” they wrote in a statement. “We don’t in anyway agree with his extreme ideas. We hope there will be no amalgam between these awful acts and the Muslim religion.”
In an article in the Huffington Post, French Islam expert Olivier Roy criticises the idea of a single French “Muslim community” and points out that there are more Muslims in the army, the police and the gendarmes than in the al-Qaeda network”.