Homeless Muslim Migrant Rescues Israeli Woman in Rome

Ariel David
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A screenshot from footage of the rescue.
Ariel David

ROME - A homeless Muslim immigrant is being hailed as a hero by Italians after he rescued an Israeli woman who had jumped into the River Tiber in what police say was a suicide attempt.

On Tuesday, the 32-year-old Bangladeshi, Sobuj Khalifa, spotted the woman from the bridge under which he had found refuge and quickly dove after her into the river, which cuts through the center of the historic city and is notoriously polluted.

Video of the rescue shows Khalifa holding on to the woman with one arm and swimming for the riverbank with the other, while rescuers arrive on the scene and people atop the bridge clap and shout "bravo!"

"I saw her fall from the bridge, I thought she was dead" he is seen telling police officers in broken Italian. "But (when I reached her) I saw her eyes moving, I thought she could be still alive."

The 55-year-old Israeli was taken to hospital and is in good condition, a spokesman for Italian police in Rome told Haaretz. Her identity cannot be revealed under Italy's privacy laws, he said, adding that the suicide attempt may have been triggered by the end of a love story.

Footage of the rescue begins at the 2:50 mark

The rescue was widely reported across Italy, which, along with the rest of Europe, is in the midst of a stormy debate on immigration, as thousands of people attempt to flee war torn regions of North Africa and the Middle East by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats.

"I am not a hero," Khalifa told Italian television TV2000. "God wants us to help everybody."

Authorities rewarded Khalifa by granting him a permit to stay and work in Italy. He had been living illegally in Italy for eight years, and has been homeless for four.

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino wrote on his Facebook page that he had spoken to Khalifa to thank him for his "heroic and humane" act.

Riccardo Pacifici, the head of Rome's Jewish Community, told Haaretz that the woman, who is Jewish, is now in psychiatric care and the community is in touch with her family. Pacifici told Haaretz that the city's Jews want to thank Khalifa for his bravery and are working to find him a job and housing.

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