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‘It was fight or flight’: Young Black ‘heroes’ praised for rescuing people from fire

“We tried to save as many lives as we could,” rescuer says

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Wednesday 10 August 2022 13:06 BST
Sakariye Digaale: ‘There was a lot of debris flying around’
Sakariye Digaale: ‘There was a lot of debris flying around’ (Supplied)

A group of Black Muslim teenagers have been praised as “heroes” for running into a burning building to rescue people, including a blind pensioner with hearing difficulties.

The blaze erupted in a block of flats in Bethnal Green, east London, at around 6pm last Thursday, when the three teenagers were walking to the Young Black Men project at a nearby centre.

They raced to help after spotting smoke and hearing what witnesses described as an “explosion” from across the street.

Mohamed Rahman, 29, also rushed into the blaze and was later hospitalised after “vomiting soot”.

Sakariye Digaale, known to friends as “Zak” – who was with his friends Zakariya Ibrahim and Saaed when he spotted the fire – told The Independent that the trio approached the flats and immediately began knocking on the doors urging residents to evacuate the building.

Despite being “scared”, the 18-year-old said it was a “fight or flight” moment and that helping to secure the safety of others was paramount.

It really was fight or flight, Sakariye Digaale told The Independent (Supplied)

“Luckily we weren’t hurt but there was a lot of debris flying around which ended up injuring some people around, like one man who was walking his dog,” Mr Digaale said.

“We were cautious about entering the building but, at that point, it really was ‘fight or flight’; we tried to save as many lives as we could.”

While his friends coordinated the rescue effort, Mr Digaale learned that a blind and deaf man was stranded on the fourth floor. Mr Digaale found the man and carried him from the building on his back.

“Being a Muslim, we’re trying to help guys. That could have been a dad, that could have been anyone,” he added. “And everyone’s thinking I’m a hero now and I’m thinking this is normal!,” the teenager said.

Studies have shown that Islamophobia is prevalent across the UK.

Mr Digaale said of his actions: “I’m conscious of how society often views Black people and Muslims but, honestly, the lessons that my friends and I learned at a young age remind us that every life is valued.

“I hope that our actions contradict some of the common misconceptions around who Black, Muslim people are.”

When asked what lessons the trio’s actions can impart, Mr Digaale said: “If there’s an opportunity for you to help the needy or someone who’s not in as fortunate a position as you in life, you should take that seriously and try to help as many people as you can.”

Mr Ibrahim, 18, told the Big Issue: “I just know if I had my nan or mum in a building ... I wish people did that because nowadays I’ve seen people only care for themselves so I hope this changes people and it becomes a domino effect where everyone starts to help in any way.”

“I am really proud of our young Black men, who risked their lives, to enter a burning building,” Abdi Hassan, of Coffee Afrik - a community-based hub supporting Somali and Black people attended by these teenagers - told The Independent.

“I recognise the excellence and power of our young Black men, the importance to let them lead, direct our work and to give back as Islam teaches us, that our neighbours have rights over us.

“I hope that we can really look at the narrative about Black men and that we reimagine how we treat our young people, I am honoured to serve them daily”.

Around 100 firefighters responded to the blaze on Granby Street.

A Young Black Men project session in east London (Supplied)

The London Fire Brigade confirmed it received more than 40 calls alerting them to the fire at the eight-storey building.

Four people were taken to hospital, according to station commander Paul Green.

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