In the Muslim community of France, stories of heroism and fear : Parallels : NPR

A man walks past a makeshift memorial to French Muslim policeman Ahmed Merabet near the site where he was shot dead by gunmen, near the headquarters of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

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When Lassana Bathily escaped from a besieged Paris supermarket, police initially thought he was the attacker. They threw him to the ground and handcuffed him.

Bathily, 24, is an immigrant from Mali, of the same skin color as the shooter the police were looking for. Like the shooter, Bathily is Muslim.

“An hour and a half they kept me handcuffed,” Bathily told French television. “Until one of my colleagues who wasn’t working that day came and told them who I was.”

Lassana Bathily, a Muslim immigrant from Mali, helped rescue hostages taken Friday from the kosher supermarket where he works.

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Bathily works at Hyper Cacher, the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris where French authorities say gunman Amedy Coulibaly, 32, took hostages on Friday. The market caters to observant Jews, and the siege took place a few hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, when the store was packed with shoppers.

Bathily was in the cellar in the basement, near a walk-in refrigerator, when Coulibaly burst upstairs.

“I opened the refrigerator door and rushed some of the shoppers inside,” Bathily said. “Then I turned off the light and closed the door behind us. I told them to be quiet, then I walked out.”

Bathily managed to escape through a delivery shaft. After he and his colleague convinced the police that he was not a threat, he was able to describe the layout of the store and where some hostages were hiding. He also gave them a key to open the metal shutters of the store – for them to storm.

Four Jewish hostages died, but many of those who survived say Bathily helped save them.

“I didn’t know or didn’t care if they were Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” he said. “We are all in the same boat.”

More than 90,000 people have signed an online petition calling on French President Francois Hollande to grant automatic citizenship to Bathily, for his heroism. He is compared to Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman shot dead in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

“Islam is a religion of peace, love and sharing,” said the murdered policeman’s brother, Malek Merabet. “My brother was a Muslim. He was killed by people claiming to be Muslims.”

On Friday, French police stand guard outside the Grand Mosque in Paris as a hostage situation unfolds at a kosher supermarket. Nevertheless, the Grand Mufti of the mosque said there were no plans to add additional security.

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On Friday, French police stand guard outside the Grand Mosque in Paris as a hostage situation unfolds at a kosher supermarket. Nevertheless, the Grand Mufti of the mosque said there were no plans to add additional security.

Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Like the Merabet family, Muslim leaders around the world have condemned the Paris attacks. NPR visited the city’s Grand Mosque – where there was no extra security last weekend. The journalists were able to enter and meet the Grand Mufti of the mosque, Dalil Boubakeur.

“What they did is a very bad deed for the [Muslim] community, because they introduced violence,” Boubakeur said during an interview in a Moorish-style office next to the mosque’s lush central courtyard. “It is a criminal action. They are criminals. They are barbaric people. It’s really bad for Muslims. [There are] risks of violence against Islam — against Muslims.

On Monday, the Central Council of Muslims in France announced that it had recorded more than 50 shootings and bomb threats at Islamic sites and mosques across the country since last week’s attacks.

Groups dedicated to countering the radicalization of Muslims in Europe say they have seen a flood of requests. Maarten van de Donk, senior adviser to the Radicalization Awareness Network – a group set up by the European Union – said his group expects a flood of calls from people who suddenly think their Muslim neighbors are radicals.

“It’s already happening. You also see on social media, a lot of people are overreacting,” van de Donk said. “People are telling what happened to all the Muslims in Europe. Some are starting to think, ‘This is what’s happening with Islam.’ So there are tensions.”

Outside the now empty Charlie Hebdo offices, where last Wednesday’s massacre took place, Parisians piled up flowers. Among those lighting a candle was Pierre Hakim, 25, who said he was half French and half Algerian.

“My mother is Christian. My nanny when I was a child was Jewish. And I’m Muslim,” he said. “That’s all we have to believe – together.”

But Hakim said he was afraid for the future. France, for him, has always been a country of tolerance – and he says the terrorist attacks last week shattered that feeling.

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