Lassana Bathily, the Malian Muslim employee who helped save the lives of several customers during last week’s deadly attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris, will be awarded French nationality, France’s Interior Bernard Cazeneuve announced Thursday.
In a statement applauding Bathily’s “act of bravery,” Cazeneuve said that the young man will become a French citizen during a ceremony on January 20.
The move comes following an outpouring of public support for Bathily, whose striking story of courage trickled out in the days after the hostage crisis at the Hyper Casher supermarket in eastern Paris.
The 24-year-old shop assistant was in the underground stockroom on Friday when gunman Amédy Coulibaly burst in upstairs, firing from a Kalashnikov.
“When he (the gunman) entered the store, people came rushing down saying there was an armed madman,” Bathily told FRANCE 24. “I thought the only option was to hide in the freezer, so I switched it off and got everyone inside.”
Bathily, who arrived in France at the age of 16 in 2006, said he tried to persuade some to follow him as he sneaked out of the building using a goods lift, but they were too scared to move.
“I knew the emergency exits so I took my chance, but if the gunman had seen me I would have been dead,” he said.
As he walked towards police with his hands up, Bathily was mistaken for the attacker, forced to the ground and hand-cuffed for over an hour.
Once police realised their mistake, he provided them with a key to open the supermarket's metal blinds to mount their assault.
Coulibaly, a Frenchman of Malian origin, was killed in the ensuing firefight with police, who also found four hostages dead inside the supermarket, apparently shot by the gunman when he entered the store.
Police sources have corroborated Bathily's account of the siege.
‘A medal for Lassana’
The Hyper Casher employee got a phone call from President François Hollande on Sunday, ahead of the huge unity rally that drew more than one million people to the streets of Paris.
There was also praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took part in the historic march, along with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
“I want to express my appreciation to the Mali citizen who helped save seven Jews,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the French capital’s Grand Synagogue following the demonstration.
Bathily’s heroism gave France a much-needed feel-good story at a time of grief and fear of backlash against France's Muslim population, which is Europe's largest.
French Muslim leaders have rushed to condemn the deadly attacks by Coulibaly and his accomplices Chérif and Said Kouachi, who killed 12 people in a brazen attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday before they were also shot dead in a standoff with police two days later.
The Kouachi brothers have been linked with al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, while Coulibaly claimed to belong to the Islamic State group.
In his interview with FRANCE 24, Bathily described the kosher supermarket, where the vast majority of customers are Jewish, as a “second family”.
“No one has ever made a remark about my faith,” he said.
In the wake of last week’s attacks, a social media campaign was launched calling for Bathily to be given both citizenship and the Legion of Honour, France’s highest distinction.
A Facebook page created on Saturday for the supermarket hero has garnered more than 22,400 likes, while thousands of people on Twitter have shared the hashtag #UneMedaillePourLassana (A medal for Lassana).
Date created : 2015-01-15