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Lassana Bathily

The Friday after the deadly attack at the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by followers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Amedy Coulibaly, also affiliated with ISL, entered a kosher grocery. It was busy because it was before the Jewish Sabbath. Christians and Muslims also shopped in this neighborhood store.

“People were buying things when a man came in with a rifle and started shooting in all directions. I ran out. The shooting continued for several seconds,” a witness said.

Yohan Cohen, a 22-year-old store employee, and Yoav Hattab, 21, were killed after trying to grab a gun which Coulibaly put down after it jammed. François-Michel Saada and Philippe Braham were thought to have been killed trying to resist as well.  Coulibaly recorded seven minutes of his attack, including three of the murders, on a camera he wore. Then he inserted the camera's memory card into a store computer and sent a copy of the video.

Coulibaly said in an interview during the standoff that he had sixteen hostages. He said he targeted the Jews at the grocery to defend Muslims. He was heard telling the hostages, over a cell phone accidentally left on, that he was doing this in revenge for the Syrian government action and against the Western coalition actions in Mali, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

When the gunfire began, Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old store employee working in the basement, led some people who came downstairs into the cold storage room for safety, people Coulibaly did not know about. “I turned off the light, I turned off the freezer. When I turned off the cold, I put them in, I closed the door, and I told them to try to stay calm.” They remained there for the next five hours.

Bathily realized that he could escape through the freight elevator and tried to convince others to come with him, but they refused. “I knew the emergency exits so I took my chance, but if the gunman had seen me I would have been dead,” he said.

He found the police. “They told me, get down on the ground, hands over your head. They cuffed me and held me for an hour and a half as if I was with them [the terrorists].” He eventually convinced the police that he wanted to help; he had keys to the store, and provided information on the store’s floor plan. The police could come in through the front door, he said, without putting the hostages in danger. That is what they did.

When the hostages come out of the basement, they thanked Bathily. “They congratulated me. They said, ‘Really, thanks for thinking of all these ideas.’ I said, ‘It’s nothing. It’s life.’ ”

Bathily, asked about what he had done, said, “We are brothers. It's not a question of Jews, of Christians or of Muslims. We’re all in the same boat, we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”

Bathily moved to France in 2006 and applied for citizenship in 2014. He was granted citizenship shortly after the incident. “Lassana Bathily enriches us by joining the French nation,” said Pierre Henry, the president of the French government's refugee assistance agency.

A detailed article with many references can be found at Porte de Vincennes hostage crisis on Wikipedia.

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