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Hero guard who ‘saved France’ from baby-faced bomber at football stadium

Hero guard who ‘saved France’ from baby-faced bomber at football stadium
Hero saved france

Salim Toorabally

Revealed: Hero guard who ‘saved France’ from baby-faced bomber at football stadium after stopping him sneaking through turnstile and detonating vest among thousands of fans and President Hollande

  • Bilal Hadfi intended to sneak into the Stade de France and detonate a bomb
  • Thousands of football fans were inside, including President Hollande
  • Security guard Salim Toorabally stopped the bomber at the last moment
  • Policeman later told him: ‘It might just be that you have saved France’
  • For more on the Paris terror attacks visit dailymail.co.uk/ParisAttacks

By BEN ELLERY and SIMON MURPHY and HANNAH FLINT FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

PUBLISHED: 01:05, 29 November 2015 | UPDATED: 00:09, 30 November 2015

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3337928/Hero-guard-saved-France-baby-faced-bomber-football-stadium-stopping-sneaking-turnstile-detonating-vest-thousands-fans-President-Hollande.html#ixzz3sxt7ENAC
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If all had gone to plan, the Stade de France would now be synonymous with horror – the barbaric centrepiece of the Paris attacks.

Islamic State bomber Bilal Hadfi, 20, was supposed to sneak inside the stadium on the city’s northern fringes and there, surrounded by thousands of football fans, among them President Francois Hollande, detonate his explosive belt.

Had the terrorist succeeded, the consequences would have been unthinkable. But the cool-headed actions of one man, a security guard, stopped him at the last possible moment.

Until today the identity of the hero of the Stade de France – and the full story of what happened that night – has never been disclosed.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal he is Salim Toorabally, a 42-year-old Mauritian immigrant and devout Muslim.

Our reporters traced the security guard to a modest two-bedroom flat in a tower block in the north-east Paris suburb of Le Blanc-Mesnil, where he lives quietly with wife Bibi, 55, and their 15-year-old daughter Yza.

Many remarkable stories filtered out in the days following the appalling carnage on November 13, but with its terrible sense of what might have been, few are more remarkable than Salim’s.

As a policeman would later tell him with a melodramatic flourish: ‘Sir, it might just be that you have saved France.’

In an exclusive interview, Salim told The Mail on Sunday that while he has been feted as a hero since the attacks, he insists he is ‘just an ordinary guy’ who was simply doing his job.

Yet this stark fact remains: if he hadn’t singled out Hadfi among thousands of football fans flowing past him as he manned a turnstile, hundreds would have been massacred – and the President himself could have been among them.

Recalling the moment he realised he had stopped the bomber, Salim said: ‘I felt a shiver down my spine. I felt sick. It was so shocking. I told myself that if I had let him in, I would have been an accomplice in the murder of all those innocent people. Hundreds of people could have died.’

Before heading off to the match, a friendly between France and Germany, Salim ate a meal with his family. His home is a 20-minute car journey away from the stadium in Saint-Denis, the area where the mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, would be shot dead days later.

Working for Maine Securite, Salim was part of a team of 150 security guards on duty at the turnstiles on the outer perimeter of the ground.

The football-mad Paris Saint Germain fan has worked in security for ten years but this was his first shift at the Stade de France.

Just as he was leaving to go to the game, his daughter warned him to be careful. She’d heard that the German team had been evacuated from their hotel after a bomb scare.

Salim made it to the stadium in good time. He was on duty at Gate L. Although he would miss the match itself, he relished the excitement and the infectious good humour of the rival fans, some 80,000 in all.

Lurking nearby, Hadfi, who the world would soon come to know as the ‘baby-faced jihadi’, was doubtless nervously contemplating the task before him.

If he succeeded, millions across the globe would see him blow himself up on live television – and his ‘spectacular’ would herald a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city. It was 45 minutes before kick-off and time for him to move.

The crowds had thickened and hundreds were streaming past Salim now. The guard had always prided himself on his ability to remain vigilant under pressure. And when a young Arabic man in a dark jacket suddenly darted forwards trying to tailgate a fan through the turnstile, Salim was there to stop him.

Instinctively he blocked his path with his arm, which, though he didn’t know it at the time, brushed against the outline of a suicide belt, concealed by Hadfi’s jacket. It contained the deadly improvised explosive TATP, known as ‘mother of Satan’.

Improbably, the young man insisted that he had a ticket but was waiting for his cousin to arrive to bring it to him. Salim wasn’t fooled and refused him entry.

Normally the young man would not have merited a second glance. But there was something in his manner, furtive and conspiratorial, along with the way he loitered for just a little too long nearby, that made Salim uneasy.

Then he began taking an unusually close interest in security measures. He made a series of calls on his mobile. Salim’s suspicions grew.

He registered his appearance – the jacket, short dark hair, slender build – and continued waving fans through.

Ten minutes later he saw the young man moving towards another turnstile. Salim rushed from his position to warn his colleague, but the young man, realising he had been thwarted, backed off and then disappeared.

Some 50 minutes later Salim heard the first of three explosions, though he didn’t connect it at first to his encounter with the man he’d turned away.

In fact, it would only be much later, when he was interviewed by police, that the scope of what had happened began to fully register.

Salim identified Hadfi as the young man in the dark jacket from a selection of photos, one of which he said was a close-up of the dead bomber’s bloodied face.

Recalling the terrifying moment that it dawned on him the stadium was under attack, he said: ‘Never in my life have I felt such fear. I felt it in my stomach. I was scared I was going to die. I thought of my family, my wife and my daughter. Then my thoughts fell on the most important person at the match, President Hollande.’

But his fears didn’t stop him instinctively rushing to the aid of injured colleagues nearby.

‘I just needed to do something to help,’ he said. ‘There were so many of us where we were standing, we were just useless.’

As he ran, his heart beating furiously, he bellowed to colleagues on other gates to take cover and get inside. Within seconds, as he approached Gate D, he came across three wounded stewards being helped inside the stadium grounds after they had been hit by the blast outside.

One of the men had blood gushing from a shrapnel wound on his leg, while another was holding his knee and screaming out in pain.

The other man was staggering around in shock. Acting quickly, Salim helped put the most injured man into the recovery position, making sure that his wounded left leg was not pressed against the floor. He helped the other two men to the ground, reassuring each one that they would survive. As he knelt beside them, he took their hands and prayed.

‘All they had done was come to work to be paid very little. They were just there to do their job, and this had happened to them. I had to help. I suddenly saw myself lying where they were and imagined that I could be the next victim.’

By this point, he had been joined by other colleagues who called an ambulance. When paramedics arrived and cut open one of the men’s trouser legs, he recoiled with horror when he saw two deep bullet- sized holes seeping with blood.

As he backed off and left the paramedics to work, he looked down at his hands and noticed that they were covered in blood. It was only later that he found out there had been a third explosion – he had only heard two as the devastation unfolded.

In all, though, the fatalities were mercifully low: only the three suicide bombers and a bystander. Salim stayed late to search the stadium, checking for other casualties. He took the train back alone, arriving home at 1.30am. He barely slept.

‘Ever since it happened, I have felt worry in my stomach,’ said Salim. ‘I haven’t been able to sleep and have had terrible flashbacks.’

His employer told him that two of the wounded colleagues he helped had been rushed to hospital on the night, but released after a few days.

In the days since the attacks on Paris, Salim has been hailed as a hero. After hearing his story, the security guard’s local mayor in his hometown Le Blanc-Mesnil invited him to a private meeting to congratulate him.

Thierry Meignen told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I am very proud that he is someone from our community and I was very happy to meet him.’

Salim fears the massacre, coming less than a year after jihadis killed 17 people during attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket, has further blighted the image of Islam.

He said: ‘Men who do this are impostors, delivering the wrong message.’ He added: ‘I came to France when I was 16. This is a country in which I have succeeded. I am proud to be a Frenchman.’
(c) MauritiusMag.com

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