The terrorist attacks on Paris left the world reeling, after eight suicide bombers unleashed a wave of atrocities on the French capital on November 13 in a coordinated attack on six major sites s including a street cafe and the Bataclan theatre which was the scene of a blood bath. 130 people died, hundreds more were injured and the world was stricken with grief at the senseless tragedy.
The Stade de France was one of the targets of the attackers. Islamic State bomber Bilal Hadfi, 20, arrived at the grounds wearing a suicide belt, which he planned to detonate inside the stadium, which was filled with thousands of football fans gathered to watch their home team in a friendly match against Germany in the presence of the French President Francois Hollande. With the match being televised, it was intended to be the horrifying centrepiece of the Paris attacks, the full scale horror of the bombing being broadcast to millions around the world.
The loss of life and the carnage that might have followed is unthinkable, but thankfully the planned mass killing was averted due to the quick thinking and diligence of a security guard who thwarted the terrorist.
Dubbed the hero of the Stade de France, Salim Toorabally was the security guard who stopped the terrorist entering the stadium and whose actions undoubtedly saved the lives of thousands of people and in turn "saved France."
The 42-year-old Mauritian immigrant and devout Muslim was identified by The Mail on Sunday who traced him to a two-bedroom flat in a tower block in the north-east Paris suburb of Le Blanc-Mesnil, where he lives with wife Bibi, 55, and their 15-year-old daughter Yza.
In an interview, Salim told The Mail on Sunday that while he has been hailed a hero for his part in foiling the deadly attack, he insists he is 'just an ordinary guy' who was just doing his job. Working as a security guard for the past ten years, it was his first shift at the Stade de France for Maine Securite, as part of a team of 150 security guards on duty at the turnstiles on the outer perimeter of the ground.
Recalling his encounter with Hadfi he described how the baby-faced attacker tried to tailgate a fan through the turnstile. Salim stopped him, blocking his path with his arm, little knowing that he had brushed against the suicide belt, concealed underneath Hadfi's jacket. The young man claimed he had a ticket, but was waiting for his cousin to bring it to him, however Salim did not fall for his ruse and refused him entry to the stadium.
He watched as the young man took an unusual interest in the security measures around the stadium and made several phone calls on his mobile. His behaviour roused Salim's suspicions and as he saw Hadfi attempt again to get past another security guard, he rushed from his position to warn his colleague. Hadfi disappeared into the crowd. 50 minutes later, Salim heard the first of three explosions. It was when he was interviewed by police that he realized he had been face-to-face with a killer and had stopped him committing an atrocity on a grand scale.
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."
Describing the 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."
Despite his own fears, Salim rushed to the aid of his colleagues who were injured in the attack. "I just needed to do something to help," he said. "There were so many of us where we were standing, we were just useless. 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."
Salim later identified Hadfi from a selection of photos, one of which he said was a close-up of the dead bomber's bloodied face. Three suicide bombers and a bystander were mercifully, the only people killed at the Stade de France which was filled to capacity with over 80,000 football fans.
Contemplating the barbaric reality of what the attackers were intending and the potential loss of life, a policeman later told Salim: "Sir, it might just be that you have saved France."
Salim has been hailed as a hero and the local mayor of his hometown Le Blanc-Mesnil invited him to a private meeting to praise him for his actions. 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."
Describing the effects of the tragedy on him he said: "Ever since it happened, I have felt worry in my stomach. I haven't been able to sleep and have had terrible flashbacks." A devout Muslim, he decries the actions of the murderous attackers who commit such atrocities in the name of Islam. "Men who do this are impostors, delivering the wrong message," he said. "I came to France when I was 16. This is a country in which I have succeeded. I am proud to be a Frenchman."